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Life's bookies offer grim odds for smokers

The bookies tend to know a thing or two about the real odds of something happening. They've consistently been more accurate than opinion polls, for example, in predicting election outcomes.

Life's bookmakers are actuaries, the insurance professionals who calculate the risks on which insurance premiums are based. Their latest set of figures shows the risk of smoking.

Being a smoker at the age of 30 cuts a man's life expectancy by 5 and a half years, and a woman's by more than 6 and a half years, according to life tables produced by the Institute of Actuaries. At any age up to 80, the chances of dying in the next year are virtually doubled by being a smoker.

  • As of today a 30 year old male non-smoker can expect to live, on average, until he is over 82. The equivalent life expectancy for a female non-smoker is almost 86.
  • However, if the man smokes, he can expect to live 5.5 years less, to an age of 76.8. The equivalent figure for the female smoker is a greater reduction of 6.8 years, to an age of just over 79.
  • Today's 60 year old male non-smoker can expect to live, on average, until he is almost 84, but if he smokes that age reduces to just over 79. A female non-smoker of the same age has an average life expectancy of just over 87, which falls to just under 81 if she smokes.

Male smokers aged 60 are estimated to have a 106 in 10,000 chance of dying that year (over 1%), compared to non-smoking men of the same age who have only a 48 in 10,000 likelihood (less than 0.5%).

The difference is less pronounced, though still significant, at younger ages. A male aged 40 has an estimated 12 in 10,000 chance of dying that year, whereas a non-smoking man the same age has only a 7 in 10,000 likelihood.

Brian Ridsdale, chair of the actuarial body which produces the figures says: 'These important new statistics provide further evidence — if it is needed — that smoking is not only bad for the quality of our lives but their quantity, too. People may be surprised that the gap between smoker and non-smoker has, at many ages, broadened beyond the long-established differential between men and women.

'In fact these bare statistics do if anything understate the reduction in life expectancy from smoking. This is because life offices' proposal forms record only whether people smoked when they bought their policies. The CMI's data of 'non-smokers' therefore includes both people who did smoke in the past but gave up some time before they bought their policy - and those who started smoking after purchasing life assurance. Both these groups will tend to have lower life expectancies as a result of having smoked at some stage in their lives.

'We believe this new research has important future public policy implications. We require not only policies to encourage people to stop smoking, but also stronger deterrents for potential smokers. This suggests the need for more effective education and public information about the dangers of tobacco — and the extension of smoking bans in public and private spaces.'

Page created on April 25th, 2005

Page updated on December 1st, 2009