Objectives: This study was undertaken to examine changes in smoking-specific death rates from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Methods: In two prospective studies, one from 1959 to 1965 and the other from 1982 to 1988, death rates from lung cancer, coronary heart disease, and other major smoking-related diseases were measured among more than 200,000 current smokers and 480,000 lifelong non-smokers in each study.
Results: From the first to the second study, lung cancer death rates (per 100,000) among current cigarette smokers increased from 26 to 155 in women and from 187 to 341 in men; the increase persisted after current daily cigarette consumption and years of smoking were controlled for. Rates among nonsmokers were stable. In contrast, coronary heart disease and stroke death rates decreased by more than 50% in both smokers and nonsmokers. The all-cause rate difference between smokers and nonsmokers doubled for women but was stable for men.
Conclusions: Premature mortality (the difference in all-cause death rates between smokers and nonsmokers) doubled in women and continued unabated in men from the 1960s to the 1980s. Lung cancer surpassed coronary heart disease as the largest single contributor to smoking-attributable death among White middle-class smokers.