Smoking tobacco increases the risk of 56 diseases in Chinese adults 

Smoking tobacco increases the risk of 56 diseases in Chinese adults 
© iStock/Dudits

A new study has found that smoking tobacco increases the risk of 56 diseases and kills over one million adults in China each year.  

In new research published in The Lancet Public Health, researchers from the University of Oxford, Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences suggested that around half of those who start smoking tobacco as young men (before 18) will eventually be killed by tobacco unless they give up. Furthermore, smoking tobacco increases the risk of developing a wide range of conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases. 

Many studies have shown the adverse effects of smoking tobacco, including causing many types of cancer. However, very few studies have addressed the impact of smoking on a wider range of diseases within the same population. 

Investigating the effects of smoking tobacco in China 

The study included over 512,000 adults who were recruited during 2004-08 from ten diverse urban and rural areas across China. They were asked about their lifestyles and behaviour factors, including detailed smoking information, such as the age they started smoking and the type of tobacco product they used. Their answers were validated through exhaled carbon monoxide.  

In the cohort, 32.4% had ever smoked tobacco regularly. This figure was higher in men (74%) than in women (3%). They were followed for a median of 11 years, during which more than 48,800 participants died and around 1.14 million new disease events occurred.  The analyses were adjusted for other factors, such as age, education, and alcohol drinking.  

Ka Hung Chan, a research fellow at Oxford Population Health and a lead author of the paper said: “The results are a stark reminder of the serious consequences of smoking and the benefits of stopping before any major illness develops. Although some associations were weaker than those seen in high-income populations, these are likely to be explained by the more recent widespread uptake of smoking in China.” 

The consequences of the myths surrounding smoking

In China, certain myths about smoking tobacco have limited the effectiveness of health education messages. The belief is that smoking is less hazardous to Asian populations, that quitting smoking may have unwanted health consequences, and that tobacco use is a traditional part of Chinese culture. The new study demonstrates the severe health consequences of smoking tobacco. 

The study predicts that the future tobacco hazards will be the greatest in men born after the 1970s most of which started smoking before the age of 20 years and the risks in rural men will gradually overtake those in urban men due to higher smoking prevalence. Further research will be required to understand the burden of smoking in China.  

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