Researchers are offering a helpful hint to Chinese men hoping to "avoid disability and premature death": stop smoking. Of the million people who died from smoking in China in 2010, 84% were male, reports AFP. A new study in the Lancet finds the annual death toll in China—which consumes a third of the world's cigarettes—is on track to climb in the next few decades, reaching 2 million by 2030 and 3 million by 2050. "About two-thirds of young Chinese men become cigarette smokers, and most start before they are 20," says a researcher. "Unless they stop, about half of them will eventually be killed by their habit." Only 2.4% of Chinese women smoke, per the BBC, and just 1% of deaths in women 55 and younger are attributed to smoking. Conversely, smoking is blamed for 20% of deaths in Chinese men aged 40-79, researchers say, based on two studies of 730,000.
The report doesn't offer all gloom: It shows the percentage of smokers who quit grew from 3% in 1991 to 9% in 2006, and those who quit before they developed any serious illness had about the same disease risk as non-smokers after 10 years, which should encourage others to drop the habit. However, only 10% quit by choice; the others were too ill to continue, reports the BBC. If concern for their own health doesn't compel more people to quit, a price hike might do the trick. A study author explains smoking rates have fallen in western countries partly because of rising prices. In China, where a popular pack sells for $1.50 cents, "a substantial increase in cigarette prices could save tens of millions of lives," he says. A commentary accompanying the study notes more than 7% of the Chinese government's annual revenue comes from tobacco sales and taxes, which "complicates" anti-smoking efforts, reports CNN. (Read more smoking stories.)