Context: Smoking is associated with an increased risk of total and cause-specific death, but the rate of mortality risk reduction after quitting compared with continuing to smoke is uncertain. There is inadequate or insufficient evidence to infer the presence or absence of a causal relationship between smoking and ovarian cancer and colorectal cancer.
Objective: To assess the relationship between cigarette smoking and smoking cessation on total and cause-specific mortality in women.
Design, setting, and participants: Prospective observational study of 104,519 female participants in the Nurses' Health Study with follow-up from 1980 to 2004.
Main outcome measure: Hazard ratios (HRs) for total mortality, further categorized into vascular and respiratory diseases, lung cancer, other cancers, and other causes.
Results: A total of 12,483 deaths occurred in this cohort, 4485 (35.9%) among never smokers, 3602 (28.9%) among current smokers, and 4396 (35.2%) among past smokers. Compared with never smokers, current smokers had an increased risk of total mortality (HR, 2.81; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.68-2.95) and all major cause-specific mortality. The HR for cancers classified by the 2004 surgeon general's report to be smoking-related was 7.25 (95% CI, 6.43-8.18) and 1.58 (95% CI, 1.45-1.73) for other cancers. Compared with never smokers, the HR for colorectal cancer was 1.63 (95% CI, 1.29-2.05) for current smokers and 1.23 (95% CI, 1.02-1.49) for former smokers. A significant association was not observed for ovarian cancer. Significant trends were observed for earlier age at initiation of smoking for total mortality (P = .003), respiratory disease mortality (P = .001), and all smoking-related cancer mortality (P = .001). The excess risk for all-cause mortality decreases to the level of a never smoker 20 years after quitting, with different time frames for risk reduction observed across outcomes. Approximately 64% of deaths among current smokers and 28% of deaths among former smokers were attributable to cigarette smoking.
Conclusions: Most of the excess risk of vascular mortality due to smoking in women may be eliminated rapidly upon cessation and within 20 years for lung diseases. Postponing the age of smoking initiation reduces the risk of respiratory disease, lung cancer, and other smoking-related cancer deaths but has little effect on other cause-specific mortality. These data suggest that smoking is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer mortality but not ovarian cancer mortality.