Smoking 'to blame for majority of gender gap in deaths'

In collaboration with Adfero

Smoking accounts for up to 60 per cent of the gender gap in death rates across Europe, according to a new study by scientists at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow.

The study authors set out to investigate death rates more closely, after observing that the gender gap in death rates was likely to be down to more than simple biology or women's tendency to seek healthcare more readily than men.

They analysed World Health Organisation figures on death rates from all causes, as well as those attributable to smoking and drinking, in 30 European countries around 2005.

As expected, death rates from all causes were higher for men than for women, ranging from 188 excess male deaths per 100,000 people per year in Iceland to 942 per 100,000 in Ukraine.

The researchers observed that the male alcohol-related death rate ranged from 29 per 100,000 in Iceland to 253 per 100,000 in Lithuania.

Overall, the proportion of deaths attributable to alcohol - such as cancers of the throat and gullet and chronic liver disease - ranged from 20 per cent to 30 per cent.

But, the figures show that smoking kills twice as many men as alcohol, accounting for 40 to 60 per cent of the gender gap in almost all of the countries studied.

Writing in the journal Tobacco Control, the study authors noted: "Profound changes in the population level of smoking and in the magnitude of the gender gap in smoking should contribute to smaller gender differences in mortality in the coming decades.

"However, the extent to which this is realised will depend on the ways in which other health risk behaviours are patterned by gender."

Robin Hewings, Cancer Research UK's tobacco control manager, said that the report underlined the "terrible" damage caused by smoking.

He commented: "Most smokers want to give up so the people covered in the study died from an addiction they were trying to kick.

"Despite this, cigarettes are still being marketed in shops. The often bright and eye-catching displays - next to things children buy, like sweets and crisps - send the message that tobacco is an everyday product rather than one that is addictive and deadly. The government should implement the legislation to remove the displays."


  • McCartney, G., Mahmood, L., Leyland, A., Batty, G., & Hunt, K. (2011). Contribution of smoking-related and alcohol-related deaths to the gender gap in mortality: evidence from 30 European countries Tobacco Control DOI: 10.1136/tc.2010.037929