A new study 50-Year Trends in Smoking-Related Mortality in the United States published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that women’s death rates from smoking have caught up to those of men. The study showed that women’s risk of death from smoking-related illnesses is now equivalent to that of men. The researchers also found that, while lung cancer risk leveled off in the 1980s for men, it is still rising for women.
The researchers measured trends in mortality during three time periods – 1959–1965, 1982–1988, and 2000–2010 — after analyzing data from two historical cohort studies and in five pooled contemporary cohort studies, among participants who became 55 years of age or older during follow-up. After analyzing cohort data, the researchers found the relative risk of female to male smokers versus nonsmokers. Relative risk expresses a ratio of the probability of the event occurring in the exposed group versus a non-exposed group, such as smokers versus nonsmokers.
For example, the relative risk of women who smoke that get lung cancer would be: number of women who smoke have lung cancer/total number of women who smoke with or without lung cancer divided by the number of non-smoking women who have lung cancer/total number of nonsmoking women with or without lung cancer. For women who were current smokers, as compared with women who had never smoked, the relative risks of death from lung cancer were 2. 73, 12. 65, and 25. 66 in the 1960s, 1980s, and contemporary cohorts.
The corresponding relative risks for male current smokers were 12. 22, 23. 81, and 24. 97. The women’s relative risk of death in the contemporary cohorts was higher than that of men. The authors concluded that the relative risks of death from all causes — including lung cancer, COPD, ischemic heart disease, and any type of stroke — are almost identical for female and male smokers. For men 55 to 74 years of age and for women 60 to 74 years of age, the rate of death from all causes is at least three times as high among current smokers as among those who have never smoked.
In the decades following women’s liberation, women have equaled or surpassed men in some areas such as types of education and breaking into certain fields. Surpassing men in smoking-related deaths was not a goal of the Women’s Movement. However, there is something that women, and men, can do about smoking-related deaths: The authors reaffirmed that quitting smoking before the age of 40 years old can avoid nearly all risk of smoking-related death.
Future studies can include other factors besides quantity of cigarettes smoked daily and date of onset of smoking that would affect diseases and death rates. These may include family history, types of cigarettes smoked, alcohol, depth of inhalation, ingredients in cigarettes, and other diseases. Future studies can also include finding reasons why the rates of death from COPD continue to increase for both men and women and seem to be independent from the number of cigarettes smoked or age at onset of smoking. Future studies can include more non-Caucasian men and women.
In addition, the authors did not look at time periods. In addition, data from 1966 to 1981 and 1989 to 1999 can be used in a future study to see any trends between smoking and death rates. This study emphasizes the importance of the effects of smoking habits on health, and is another incentive to get women and men to quit smoking.