The dangers of smoking
13 April 2007
A Sydney University researcher is helping to alert people in the Asia Pacific region to the deadly impact of smoking.
Dr Rachel Huxley, acting director of the Nutrition and Lifestyle Division at the George Institute, says too few people in the region are aware of the dangers of smoking which is responsible for nine out of ten cases of lung cancer, three out of four cases of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and one in four cases of coronary heart disease.
Public awareness has been raised in Australia, which, over the past few decades, has gone from having one of the highest rates of cigarette smoking in the world to one of the lowest. But in the wider region, especially in developing countries, the number of smokers is enormous - China alone has 320 million smokers, the vast majority of them men. Moreover, a recent report suggests that over 50 per cent of doctors in China smoke.
Dr Huxley has led an international research team - the Asia-Pacific Cohort Studies Collaboration (APCSC) - with more than 60 researchers from nine countries examining the impact of risk factors on cardiovascular disease. More than 650,000 people have contributed to the research from 44 studies in the Asia Pacific region since 1999.
The latest research findings indicate that the risk of dying from lung cancer among women who smoke is double that for men. But the study also reported good news for any smoker wishing to quit the habit: stopping smoking can reduce the risk of death from lung cancer by up to 70 per cent.
Dr Huxley and her team are trying to help developing countries avoid the "growing pains" that western countries have already suffered. "There is an urgent need to promote public awareness of the harmful effects of smoking within the region - particularly in China, where the numbers of smokers are so high that even a small reduction in the number of people who smoke could save tens of thousands of lives. But if current smoking patterns persist, 100 million smokers in China will be killed by the habit by the end of this century," she said.
The need for comprehensive tobacco control policies is also highlighted by the research: working with the health departments of developed countries, Dr Huxley suggests that the western model of preventing and controlling smoking can be applied in Asian countries, with strong government controls over tobacco companies and massive advertising campaigns.
She also thinks the 2008 Olympic Games could be an opportunity for China to promote greater public awareness. "We could encourage the athletes to wear T-shirts showing non-smoking messages," she said. "China has excellent athletes such as the basketball player Yao Ming; I think he would be a perfect choice."
After Dr Huxley completed her DPhil at Oxford University in 2001, she moved to Sydney and joined the George Institute, an affiliated institute to the University with a mission to seek solutions for major global public health problems through research, policy development and training.
The APCSC research project was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and an unrestricted educational grant from Pfizer Inc. Its primary goal is to provide direct evidence about the determinants of lung cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease, and other common causes of death in Asia-Pacific populations.
Contact: Richard North
Phone: 02 9351 3720