But quitting early pays off; kick the habit before 40 and the risk of premature death drops by 90 per cent (The Lancet, doi.org/jng). Do it before you're 30, and the risk is even lower at 97 per cent.
The findings, from a study which followed 1.3 million British women for an average of 12 years each, mirror results from a study of male smokers from 2004.
Men took up smoking en masse in the UK around 10 to 20 years earlier than women, encouraged by free cigarettes supplied to servicemen during the second world war. As a result, the effects on health in men who smoked have taken two decades longer to show up in women. "Whether men or women, smokers who stop before middle age will on average gain about 10 years of life," says Richard Peto of the University of Oxford, head of both studies.
Meanwhile, the health benefits of legislation banning smoking at work, and in restaurants continue to accumulate.
A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that in one Minnesota county, heart attacks dropped by a third 18 months after the introduction of anti-smoking laws.
Further, a review in Circulation of 45 studies covering 33 smoke-free laws around the world found that the number of people taken into hospital because of lung diseases dropped by almost a quarter and far fewer are being admitted after heart attacks and strokes since anti-smoking laws came into force.
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