Two in three long-term smokers will die from habit

In collaboration with the Press Association

Australian scientists have found that as many as two in three long- term smokers will die from their habit if they continue to smoke.

“It’s a real concern that the devastation caused by smoking may be even greater than we previously thought". - George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK

The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, analysed data on more than 200,000 people aged 45 and over in Australia over a four year period.

The results suggest that two thirds (67 per cent) of deaths among 'long-term' smokers (i.e those who had smoked for 38 39 years on average) were from smoking-related illness.

These ranged from 14 types of cancer, to cardiovascular disease including heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.

Earlier estimates predicted that at least half of long-term smokers would die of a smoking-related illness, such as cancer .

But George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco policy manager, cautioned that these figures can’t necessarily be generalised for the UK.

“It’s a real concern that the devastation caused by smoking may be even greater than we previously thought. Earlier research has shown, as a conservative estimate, one in two long-term smokers die from smoking-related diseases in the UK, but these new Australian figures show a higher risk.

“Smoking habits differ between Australia and the UK depending on how much people smoke and the age they start so we can’t conclude that the two in three figure necessarily applies to the UK. General health and lifestyle factors will also vary,” he said.

Although it had high rates in the past, Australia now has one of the lowest smoking rates in the world – 13 per cent of the adult population in 2013. And the Australian government was the first in the world to introduce plain, standardised cigarette packaging.

“Even with the very low rates of smoking that we have in Australia we found that smokers have around three-fold the risk of premature death of those who have never smoked. We also found smokers will die an estimated 10 years earlier than non-smokers,” said Professor Emily Banks, lead author on the study.

Butterworth stressed that these latest international figures reinforce the need to continue reducing smoking rates in the UK.

“Smoking is still the single greatest preventable cause of cancer in the UK, causing over a quarter of cancer deaths. These new findings reinforce the importance of driving down smoking rates, and protecting children from tobacco marketing by introducing plain, standardised packaging for tobacco products,” he said.


  • Banks E., Marianne F Weber, Bette Liu, Robert Grenfell, Sam Egger, Ellie Paige, Alan D Lopez, Freddy Sitas & Valerie Beral (2015). Tobacco smoking and all-cause mortality in a large Australian cohort study: findings from a mature epidemic with current low smoking prevalence, BMC Medicine, 13 (1) DOI: