Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death. It kills more than 7 million people a year, according to a factsheet
by the World Health Organization. Monitoring the extent and character of tobacco exposure is crucial for implementing health policies. A study that used data from the EU-funded ALEC project investigated long-term trends in the uptake of regular smoking across Europe. The findings were published recently in the ‘PLOS ONE’
The researchers emphasised that while most scientific publications on tobacco use report prevalence figures, only a few provide data on age at smoking initiation. “Teasing out the trends in smoking initiation is especially important to develop primary preventive strategies.”
Summarising the findings in a news release
by the University of Bergen, co-author Prof. Cecilie Svanes said: “Since 1970, campaigns against smoking seem to have been largely successful, but the message has not been able to reach the youngest ages.” Prof. Svanes, a partner in ALEC, noted the importance of anti-smoking campaigns focusing on the youngest. “Of course, one reduces the risk of heart attack and lung cancer if you stop smoking at an old age, but society as a whole gains more by keeping the youngest age groups healthy for the rest of their life.”
The younger the age, the higher the uptake
The study pooled data from six large-scale multicentre studies involved in the ALEC consortium. The data covered random samples of the general population from 17 European countries. To evaluate the trends in smoking initiation between 1970 and 2009, one of the questions asked was: “How old were you when you started smoking?” The data showed that “smoking initiation during late adolescence (16–20 years) declined for both sexes and in all regions (except for South Europe, where decline levelled off after 1990),” as stated in the journal article.
“By the late 2000s, rates of initiation during late adolescence were still high (40–80 per 1000/year) in East, South, and West Europe compared to North Europe (20 per 1000/year). Smoking initiation rates during early adolescence (11–15 years) showed a marked increase after 1990 in all regions (except for North European males) but especially in West Europe, where they reached 40 per 1000/year around 2005.”
The researchers pointed to the importance of reducing initiation in adolescents “since youngsters are particularly vulnerable to nicotine addiction and tobacco adverse effects.” The ongoing ALEC (Aging Lungs in European Cohorts) project was set up to better understand the factors that lead to poor lung function, respiratory disability and the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
One of the objectives is to identify various determinants and risk factors of poor lung function, including behavioural, environmental, occupational, nutritional and genetic. ALEC integrates data from the cohort-related population-based biobanks and uses modern statistical techniques that are also relevant for multigenerational analysis. Project partners also hope to develop an online interactive tool for personalised risk assessment that will be freely available to patients and healthcare providers.
For more information, please see:ALEC project website