Forty percent of men and 28 percent of women who smoke die prematurely, according to a new report of the American Cancer Society.
The society estimates that there are 320,000 smoking-related deaths each year in the United States.In its annual publication, "Cancer Facts and Figures," the society states that the cancer rate for male cigarette smokers is more than double that of non-smokers, and the rate for female smokers is 67 percent higher than for non-smokers.
Cigarette smoking is also a major cause of heart disease and is linked to a range of other life-threatening disorders, including emphysema and severe lung infection.
"Most people don't realize that a smoker's chance of dying as a result of cigarette smoking is greater than one in three," said Dr. Harmon J. Eyre, national president of the American Cancer Society and professor of medicine at the University of Utah.
"If smokers could just think of these odds as twice as bad as those of Russian roulette, they might understand how dangerous the cigarette habit really is."
Eyre pointed out that for the most part, the connection between smoking and premature death has been impressed on the public consciousness. By 1987, the percentage of adult smokers had dropped to 26.5 percent from more than 40 percent in the mid-60s.
The society cites U.S. government figures showing cigarette production is down 1 percent last year, per capita cigarette consumption among adults has fallen from 4,141 in 1974 to 3,196 in 1987; the population of ex-smokers is up to about 40 million, and total annual cigarette consumption is down to 574 billion cigarettes in 1987 from 584 billion in 1986.
The new Cancer Society publication, however, estimates 152,000 new cases of lung cancer and 139,000 deaths from the disease in 1988.
Lung cancer, Eyre said, remains the number one cancer killer of both men and women in this country, and smoking is responsible for about 83 percent of the cases.
Cancer of the colon and rectum retains the number two position in combined incidence (147,000 new cases) and in mortality (61,500 deaths). It holds third place in cancer mortality for women.
Eyre said an estimated 135,000 new cases of breast cancer are predicted for 1988. About 42,000 breast cancer deaths will occur, which places cancer second only to lung cancer as a cancer killer of women.
Among men, the third leading cause of cancer death is cancer of the prostate. Some 28,000 men will die, and 99,000 will be newly diagnosed with this disease during 1988, according to Eyre. About one out of 11 men will develop prostate cancer at some time during his lifetime.
"In 1988, about 494,000 Americans will die of cancer," Eyre predicts. "Smoking accounts for about 30 percent of these cancer deaths. We know the single most important life-saving behavior is never to smoke, or to quit if you do . . . because to ignore the lethal odds attached to the cigarette habit is to take a deadly gamble."