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New Study Confirms Smoking Dangers For Elderly Chinese

Lina Lim – Updated on Jan 09, 2008 SCMP

Smoking among ethnic Chinese carries an increased risk of death in old age, a new study by the University of Hong Kong released on Wednesday has confirmed.

The study found that if elderly Chinese gave up the habit this would significantly reduce their risk of getting smoking-related diseases.

The study was carried out to ascertain the effects of smoking in old age among Chinese people. A university spokesman said although the dangers of smoking were well known, it was still unclear how smoking affected Chinese people in old age.

He explained that some studies had shown lower mortality rates for certain diseases in the elderly smokers compared with people who had never smoked. These studies had also shown that people who gave up smoking had higher mortality rates than those continuing to smoke.

“Hence, some mistakenly believe that smoking in the elderly is not that harmful and quitting may even cause harm,” the spokesman added.

The study was carried out by medical experts from the university and the Elderly Health Service of the Department of Health. It examined 56,000 elderly adults, aged 65 years or above, between July 1998 to December 2000.

Results from the study were later compared with the mortality statistics of non-smokers. In the study, people who gave up smoking had significantly lower risks of death than smokers, who had a 75 per cent risk of getting smoking-related diseases.

Among smoking-related diseases, smokers were more susceptible to lung cancer (58 per cent risk), strokes (67 per cent risk) and cardiovascular diseases (79 per cent risk).

People who gave up, however, had a reduced risk of 16 per cent to lung cancer, 31 per cent for strokes and 21 per cent for all cardiovascular diseases.

Current and former smokers were more likely to die from lung cancer or other cancers into very old age (85 years of age and up). Women smokers had a consistently higher risk of mortality from all causes and respiratory diseases than women who had never smoked.

The university spokesman said: “With a shorter history of smoking and longer survival in women, the harmful effects of smoking were clearly evident even in the oldest group of elderly people.”

He said the study showed a much higher risk of death from all causes “cancer, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases” for current smokers and former smokers in both older men and older women.

“Smoking increased mortality risks even in the oldest-old, but quitting reduced these risks,” the spokesman said. He urged people to stop smoking even in old age. Giving up should be an urgent priority, not only in Hong Kong but in other developing countries.

According to government statistics, smoking is the cause, on average, of 5,700 deaths annually in Hong Kong. As of 2006, there were slightly more than 793,200 smokers in the territory, 14 per cent of which are aged 15 or under.

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