One in three young Chinese men will die from the effects of tobacco, researchers say.
A study published in The Lancet, a medical journal, said, "About two-thirds of young Chinese men become cigarette smokers, and most start before they are 20. Unless they stop, about half of them will eventually be killed by their habit."
The scientists conducted two large, nationally representative studies 15 years apart, tracking the health consequences of smoking in China. The first was in the 1990s and involved a quarter-million men. The second study is ongoing and involves a half-million men and women.
"The annual number of deaths in China that are caused by tobacco will rise from about 1 million in 2010 to 2 million in 2030 and 3 million in 2050, unless there is widespread cessation," the researchers wrote.
China consumes more than one-third of the world's cigarettes and has one-sixth of the global smoking death toll.
The story is different with Chinese women. While about 10 percent of women born in the 1930s were smokers, roughly 1 percent of women born in the 1960s are. And smoking-related death rates have fallen as well. But, the researchers note, smoking has again become fashionable among Chinese women.
Richard Peto, a professor at the University of Oxford and a co-author of the recent paper, said price increases on cigarettes may be one way to reduce smoking rates.
"Over the past 20 years, tobacco deaths have been decreasing in Western countries, partly because of price increases. For China, a substantial increase in cigarette prices could save tens of millions of lives," he said.