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Health: The Calculus Of Cigarettes

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The British Medical Journal published a landmark study in 1954 that helped establish the link between smoking and lung cancer. Last week the journal published a 50-year update of the massive research project on which that paper was based–the longest smoking study ever–which calculated that cigarettes took an average of 10 years off the lives of smokers who never quit. The study, which began in 1951 and ended in 2001, followed 35,000 male doctors and found that kicking the habit reduced mortality rates on a sliding scale. Quit at 60, and you gain three years of life; quit at 30, and it’s almost as if you never smoked. Take it from Sir Richard Doll, 91, who quit at 37 and co-authored the original paper as well as last week’s update. While 50-year studies are rarities in medicine, researchers who survive them are even rarer.

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