Roughly 60 percent of the world’s population lives in Asia, where approximately half of men are tobacco smokers. Researchers say the rise in smoking among Asians follows aggressive product marketing by tobacco companies and a lack of education about health issues related to tobacco.
For the study published in PLOS Medicine, investigators pooled data from large cohort studies conducted in Asia and included demographic and risk factor information collected in seven Asian regions from the early 1960s through the late 1990s (although most of the studies enrolled participants after the mid-1980s).
The cohorts of 1,223,092 participants who were at least 45 years of age were in Bangladesh, India, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan.
Among men who had ever smoked, there was an elevated risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, or respiratory diseases in all of the geographic regions in 2004.
The risk of death due to any disease, however, varied considerably across populations, with the stronger association generally found in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, compared to that observed in mainland China and India.
Greater Death Risk for Women, Too
The association with cancer risk was quite consistent across study populations. Men who had smoked were nearly twice as likely to die from cancer, especially lung cancer, but there was also an elevated risk of death from cancers of the head and neck, esophagus, stomach, colorectum, liver, pancreas and bladder—all diseases that have been linked to smoking in previous studies, the authors write.
Men who had ever smoked tobacco were approximately 50 percent more likely to die from respiratory diseases than those who had not smoked.
While women in most Asian regions are far less likely to smoke than men, the study also shows an increased risk of death from cancer, CVD, and respiratory diseases among East Asian women. Approximately 16.7 percent of lung cancer deaths in East Asian women at least 45 years old were attributable to tobacco smoking in 2004, while for men, this number approached 63.2 percent.
“Our study showed a clear dose-response relationship between the length of time someone smoked and the number of packs they smoked, known as pack-years, and the risk of death from all causes,” says Wei Zheng, professor of medicine and director of the Vanderbilt University Epidemiology Center.
“Tobacco smoking has now reached epidemic proportions in Asia and it is likely, with the maturation of this epidemic, and the lack of effective tobacco control efforts, smokers will continue to face an increased risk of death from cancer and other diseases.”
John Potter, a member and scientific advisor of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington is a coauthor of the study. Other investigators from Vanderbilt include Zhenming Fu, Xiao Ou Shu, and Gong Yang.
The World Health Organization and a number of government agencies in several countries, including the US National Institutes of Health, funded the study.