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One million Indians will die every year in the 2010s as a result of tobacco consumption, a study predicts.

Published last week (13 February) in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study assessed smoking in 1.1 million homes throughout India.

About one third of men and five per cent of women aged 30–69 smoke cigarettes, or bidis — smaller amounts of tobacco wrapped in the leaf of the temburni plant.

The researchers looked at the smoking histories and cause of death of 74,000 deceased adults and compared them with the smoking histories of 78,000 living controls.

They found that smoking is the cause of one in every five male deaths and one in 20 female deaths in the study group. Smoking contributed to deaths from tuberculosis, respiratory disease, vascular disease and cancer.

Using population projections, the researchers predict that there will be around one million smoking deaths per year in the 2010s.

The study is based on an ongoing 14-year project being carried out by the Government of India's Census authorities to track cause of death in India.

Lead researcher and author of the report, Prabhat Joshi of the Centre for Global Health Research (CGHR), at the Canada-based University of Toronto, says that the study reveals new key findings.

"[The study] found that any amount of smoking can be lethal. Whether it is one cigarette a day or seven, the risks remain the same, taking lives in the prime of life," says Joshi.

It also found that just two per cent of smokers in India have quit — possibly reflecting a lack of awareness regarding the dangers of smoking.

Joshi points out that 50 per cent of the people who died were illiterate and 80 per cent were from rural areas where information is difficult to reach. He hopes to present more findings on other diseases over the course of the project, due to end in 2014.

K. Srinath Reddy, an anti-smoking activist and cardiologist from New Delhi who heads India's Public Health Foundation, told SciDev.Net that the study is significant as it covers massive numbers of people and establishes a link between smoking and tuberculosis.

Link to full paper in the New England Journal of Medicine

Reference: New England Journal of Medicine 
doi 10.1056/NEJMsa0707719 (2008)

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