One in three of all young men in China will eventually be killed by tobacco unless a substantial proportion of them kick the habit, researchers said on Friday.
The study, published in British medical journal The Lancet, found that two-thirds of young men in China start to smoke before the age of 20.
"Unless they stop, about half of them will eventually be killed by their habit," said the one of the article's co-authors, Oxford University's Zhengming Chen.
Two nationally representative surveys were carried out by scientists 15 years apart. The first, in the 1990s, involved a quarter-of-a-million men. The second, which is ongoing, involves some half-a-million men and women.
The report pointed out that nearly 1 million Chinese had died of smoking-related causes in 2010 - 840,000 men and 130,000 women. The problem was only set to get worse, said the authors, with the proportion of deaths among Chinese men between 40 and 79 years of age having doubled since the early 1990s.
'Widespread effort needed'
"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 report said.
"Widespread smoking cessation offers China one of the most effective, and cost-effective, strategies to avoid disability and premature death over the next few decades," the report found.
One note of optimism in the report was that women of working age now smoke less than the older generation, reducing their risk of cancer and heart disease.
"About 10 percent of the women born in the 1930s smoked, but only about one percent of those born in the 1960s did so," said a statement from The Lancet.
Among the other silver linings were that the number of smokers who gave up had risen from 3 percent in 1991 to 9 percent in 2006.
The World Health Organization made similar predictions in an interview with DW in March this year. Among the measures recommended by the WHO were bans in public places.
The country has begun to take some steps, with Beijing introducing a ban on smoking indoors in public places in June.
rc/jr (AP, AFP, Reuters)