Cancer, cigarette smoking and premature death in Europe: a review including the Recommendations of European Cancer Experts Consensus Meeting, Helsinki, October 1996

Lung Cancer. 1997 May;17(1):1-60. doi: 10.1016/s0169-5002(97)00648-x.


Cigarette smoking has been clearly and unambiguously identified as a direct cause of cancers of the oral cavity, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, larynx, lung, bladder, kidney and leukaemia, especially acute myeloid leukaemia. Additionally, cigarette smoking is a direct cause of ischaemic heart disease (the commonest cause of death in western countries), respiratory heart disease, aortic aneurysm, chronic obstructive lung disease, stroke, pneumonia and cirrhosis and cancer of the liver. Cigarette smoking can kill in 24 different ways and, although smoking protects against several fatal and non-fatal conditions, the adverse effect of smoking on health is largely negative. In developed countries as a whole, tobacco is responsible for 24% of all male deaths and 7% of all female deaths: these figures rise to over 40% in men in some countries of central and eastern Europe and to 17% in women in the United States. The average loss of life of smokers is 8 years. Among United Kingdom doctors followed for 40 years, overall death rates in middle age were about three times higher among doctors who smoked cigarettes as among doctors who had never smoked regularly. About half of all regular cigarette smokers will eventually be killed by their habit. The important information is that it is never too late to stop smoking: among United Kingdom doctors who stopped smoking, even in middle age, there was a substantial improvement in life expectancy. World-wide, smoking is killing three million people each year and this figure is increasing. In most countries the worst is yet to come, since by the time the young smokers of today reach middle or old age there will be about 10 million deaths/year from tobacco. Approximately 500 million individuals alive today can expect to be killed by tobacco, 250 million of these deaths will occur in middle age. Tobacco is already the biggest cause of adult death in developed countries. Over the next few decades tobacco could well become the biggest cause of adult death in the world. For men in developed countries, the full effects of smoking can already be seen. Tobacco now causes one-third of all male deaths in middle age (plus one fifth in old age). Tobacco is a cause of about half of all male cancer deaths in middle age (plus one-third in old age). Of those who start smoking in their teenage years and keep on smoking, about half will be killed by tobacco. Half of these deaths will be in middle age (35-69) and each will lose an average of 20-25 years of non-smoker life expectancy. In non-smokers in many countries, cancer mortality is decreasing slowly and total mortality rapidly. The war against cancer is being won slowly: the effects of cigarette smoking are holding back this victory. Lung cancer now kills more women in the United States each year than breast cancer. For women in developed countries, the peak of the tobacco epidemic has not yet arrived. Tobacco now causes almost one-third of all deaths in women in middle age in the United States. Although it has only 5% of the world's female population, the United States has 50% of the world's deaths from smoking in women. Tobacco smoking is a major cause of premature death. Throughout Europe, in 1990 tobacco smoking caused three quarters of a million deaths in middle age (between 35 and 69). In the Member States of the European Union in 1990 there were over one quarter of a million deaths in middle age directly caused by tobacco smoking: there were 219700 in men and 31900 in women. There were many more deaths caused by tobacco at older ages. In countries of central and eastern Europe, including the former USSR, there were 441200 deaths in middle age in men and 42100 deaths in women. There is a need for urgent action to help contain this important and unnecessary loss of life. In formulating Recommendations, the European Cancer Experts Consensus Committee recognised that Tobacco Control depends on various parts of society and not only on the individual.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Smoking Prevention