In a tobacco-free world, life expectancy increases by 2 years

Published on: 
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Last updated on 11-12-2019 by Lydie Denis

If we lived in a world free of tobacco, the life expectancy of Belgian would increase by 2 years. This appears from a new study by Sciensano, the Belgian institute for health. Despite the continuing decline in the number of smokers, tobacco use remains one of the greatest risk factors for our health.

A tobacco-free world 

We only live longer, but smoking has major consequences for our life expectancy and our quality of life. Sciensano has developed various scenarios to measure the impact of tobacco on the population. These scenarios describe different visions of the future in which tobacco consumption is lower (at various levels) or non-existent. They highlight the harmful effects of the cigarette and its variants:

  • Life expectancy of Belgians would increase by 2 years if we lived in a world where tobacco never existed: the average age would go from 81 to 83 years old.
  • Life expectancy in good health would increase by 3 years if we lived in a world where tobacco never existed.

19% of the Belgian population smokes, including 15% daily smokers, according to the latest Health Survey conducted by Sciensano in 2018. “On average, smokers live 4 years less than non-smokers and live 7 years longer in good health”, says Brecht Devleesschauwer, researcher at Sciensano. Tobacco can cause chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular or respiratory diseases and can worsen existing medical conditions. “If each smoker abandoned this habit, the impact on health would be significant both in terms of life expectancy and life quality. The long-term goal is to encourage people not to start smoking in order to live up to the established scenarios”, he continues.

Radical measures to prevent and heal

This study reveals different scenarios concerning the place of tobacco in our future society and is intended to be a tool for decision makers. It shows that only drastic measures would have a positive and sustainable impact on health. For example, the increase of the legal age for buying cigarettes from 16 to 18 since November 1, 2019, would add only 2 weeks of life expectancy in good health to Belgians.

 ”With these results, we want to encourage current and future policy makers to maintain and consolidate their efforts in the fight against smoking”, concludes Brecht Devleesschauwer from Sciensano. “Each individual measure only has a limited impact on our life expectation and quality of life. A global anti-smoking plan, which includes cessation and prevention, is needed. “

Sciensano wants to continue to invest in this type of study to determine how each can live a lifetime in good health.

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