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Nine in ten smokers pick up the habit by age 25, studies show

New studies examined comprehensive data on smoking trends from 1990 to 2019.

Image: Shutterstock/Jamesboy Nuchaikong

ANALYSIS OF GLOBAL data has shown that almost 90% of smokers began smoking by the age of 25. 

Research published in The Lancet and The Lancet Public Health journals shows that smoking resulted in almost eight million deaths in 2019. 

Three new studies by the Global Burden of Disease collaboration used data from more than 3,600 national surveys to estimate smoking prevalence in 204 countries in people aged 15 and over. 

The studies found that the number of smokers around the world increased to 1.1 billion in 2019, with tobacco smoking leading to 7.7 million deaths that year alone. 

One in five male deaths worldwide that year were attributed to smoking. Global smoking prevalence since 1990 has decreased by 27.5% among men and by 37.7% among women.

Almost all smokers (89%) start smoking by the age of 25, the studies said.  

Professor Emmanuela Gakidou, from the University of Seattle, Washington and senior author said: “Smoking is a major risk factor that threatens the health of people worldwide, but tobacco control is woefully insufficient in many countries around the world.

Persistently high smoking prevalence among young people in many countries, along with the expansion of new tobacco and nicotine products, highlight an urgent need to double down on tobacco control.

More than half of countries worldwide showed no progress in reducing smoking rates among people aged 15-24. 

Marissa Reitsma, lead author of the studies on smoking, said that evidence shows “young people are particularly vulnerable to addiction”.

“The tobacco epidemic will continue for years to come unless countries can dramatically reduce the number of new smokers starting each year,” she said. 

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The average global age to begin smoking regularly is 19. 

In 2019, smoking was associated with 1.7 million deaths from ischaemic heart disease, 1.6 million deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 1.3 million deaths from tracheal, bronchus, and lung cancer, and nearly one million deaths from stroke. 

Almost 90% of deaths attributable to smoking tobaccco occurred among current smokers. 

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