One in three young Chinese men could die from smoking if trends continue

In collaboration with the Press Association

Around a third of all young men in China will eventually be killed by smoking-related diseases unless there is widespread quitting, according to new research.

"This study reinforces why smokers should be given the support they need to quit and new smokers discouraged from starting” - Nicola Smith, Cancer Research UK

The study, published in The Lancet, found that roughly two thirds of all young men in China take up smoking - most before they turn 20. 

Half of them will eventually die from the effects of smoking if they don’t quit, claim researchers from Oxford University, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the Chinese Centre for Disease Control.

Nicola Smith, senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK – which part-funded the study – said there needs to be widespread effort to tackle these figures.

“This research reveals the overwhelming worldwide tragedy of tobacco addiction, with smoking causing the deaths of around a fifth of all Chinese men during the 2010s. This is set to grow in the coming decades unless there is a widespread movement towards quitting,” she said.

The analysis combined data from two large studies, 15 years apart, that tracked health outcomes for China’s smokers.

The first study, which took place in the 1990s, involved over 250,000 men, while the second, which is still ongoing, is looking at half a million men and women. 

By 2010, a million Chinese people were dying every year from smoking-related diseases. These were mainly men. 

The research team predicts this figure will grow to two million by 2030 and three million in 2050. 

“It’s a staggering number of lives lost, and reinforces why smokers should be given the support they need to quit and new smokers discouraged from starting,” added Smith.

But smoking rates appear to be low and still falling among Chinese women, along with the risk of premature death. 

Out of those born in the 1930s, one in 10 women smoked. This figure fell to just one in 100 born in the 1960s. This has led to a drop in the death rate caused by tobacco to less than one per cent of women born since 1960.

While women are smoking less, more young men over the past decade have taken up the habit. 

The effects of this rise are starting to make themselves known, as the percentage of deaths caused by smoking for the 40-79 year-old age group doubled from 10 per cent in the 1990s to 20 per cent now. 

The problem is particularly bad in urban areas, where a quarter of all male deaths are related to smoking. But the figures are also growing for rural areas.

Co-author on the study, Professor Sir Richard Peto, said price increases in the Western world have helped reduce tobacco deaths. He says a similar policy could help in China.

Smith reiterated the success the UK has seen in tackling tobacco marketing, but stressed that there was more to be done.

“The UK has come a long way in reducing the influence of tobacco marketing, which for many decades misleadingly portrayed smoking as glamorous, enjoyable and safe,” she said.

“This study is a sobering reminder that reducing tobacco use must remain a focus for public health globally as well as in the UK. To save hundreds of thousands of lives in the coming decades, Cancer Research UK is calling on the government to commit to an ambitious new tobacco control strategy that shares our vision of a tobacco free generation by 2035.”


  • Chen, Z., et al. (2015). Contrasting male and female trends in tobacco-attributed mortality in China: evidence from successive nationwide prospective cohort studies The Lancet, 386 (10002), 1447-1456 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)00340-2