India set for 1m tobacco deaths a year during 2010s

In collaboration with the Press Association

India's smoking epidemic is set to cause around one million deaths every year during the 2010s, a new study shows.

The first nationally representative study of smoking ever to be carried out on India as a whole has revealed that one in five deaths occurring among middle-aged men are tobacco-related.

Seven out of ten tobacco-related deaths occur between the ages of 30 and 69. And the study - a joint collaboration between India, Canada and the UK - found that 61 per cent of male smokers and 62 per cent of female smokers in India can expect to die between those ages, compared to just 41 per cent of non-smoking males and 38 per cent of non-smoking females.

Jean King, director of tobacco control at Cancer Research UK, commented: "Smokers in India have twice the non-smoker cancer rate and are twice as likely to die in middle age as non-smokers.

"Cancer deaths in India will continue to rise unless concerted action is taken to reduce smoking rates. It's clear that the best way for smokers to reduce their risk of cancer, and many other life threatening diseases, is to stop smoking entirely."

The study, which is published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), also revealed regional differences in the ways that tobacco affects health within India. In rural India the majority of smoking-related deaths are from tuberculosis, while deaths in urban areas tend to be due to heart attacks.

The research also shows that no level of smoking is safe. Even a small number of Indian roll-ups - known as bidis - a day poses a substantial risk, while a similar number of cigarettes holds even greater dangers, nearly doubling the risk of death during middle-age.

Study co-author Professor Sir Richard Peto, a researcher at the Clinical Trial Services Unit at the University of Oxford, commented: "We were surprised by just how dangerous smoking was for Indian populations.

"But while smoking kills, stopping works. British studies show that stopping smoking is remarkably effective. At present, however, only two per cent of adults have quit in India, and often only after falling ill."