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Women smokers' death risk soars

Women smokers are far more likely to be killed by their habit today than they were in the 1960s, a major study has found.

The increased risk greatly outweighs improvements in medicine that have cut death rates among the majority of the population in the last 50 years.

In the 1960s, smoking raised a woman's chances of dying from lung cancer 2.7 times. By the period 2000 to 2010 this had surged to 25.7-fold higher level of risk.

A similar trend holds true for deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), another smoking-related condition.

In this case, the risk of death rose from four times greater than it was for never-smokers in the 1960s to 22.5 times.

Women smokers today start their habit earlier than they did generations ago, and until recently smoked more cigarettes per day. Tobacco use among women peaked in the 1980s, having a health impact that was felt many years later.

The study involved more than 2.2 million men and women aged 55 and older and included data spanning the period from 1959 to 2010.

Men and women who smoked in the current decade were almost equally more at risk than non-smokers of suffering lung cancer, COPD, heart disease and strokes, the research showed.

For reasons still not understood, lung cancer rates among men reached a plateau in the 1980s while the risk of death from COPD in the male population continued to increase.

The findings strongly confirm the claim that "if women smoke like men, they will die like men," say the researchers who report their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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