Britain has one of the highest death rates from lung disease in the Western world – fuelled by the legacy of women smokers.
Nearly 85,000 people die of respiratory diseases such as lung cancer, pneumonia and emphysema in the UK every year.
Compared to 18 other wealthy nations – 15 EU countries, the US, Canada and Australia – Britain has the second highest mortality rate for lung disease, behind only Denmark, a major study found.
Britain’s legacy of female smokers is still plaguing the country today as lung disease kills as many women as it did 30 years ago
The key problem, experts say, is that while fewer men are dying than in the past, lung disease is killing as many women as 30 years ago.
The disparity is likely to be linked to lifestyle changes over the past 50 years, which are catching up with older women. Britain has one of the lowest smoking rates in Europe – but in the past it was much higher. And while smoking and drinking were once predominantly male activities, cultural changes in the 1970s meant the habits were increasingly taken up by women.
Smoking rates have since dropped again, for both men and women, but the health impact of habits 40 and 50 years ago are still being seen.
The research team, led by Oxford University and Harvard Medical School, found deaths fell from 151 per 100,000 British men in 1985 to 89 per 100,000 in 2015. For British women, they rose marginally, from 67 to 68 per 100,000. In the other countries, male death rates fell from 108 to 69 per 100,000 in men and rose from 35 to 37 per 100,000 for women.
Researchers from Oxford University and Harvard Medical School found female deaths rose from 67 to 68 per 100,000 from 1985 to 2015
The researchers told the British Medical Journal: ‘The difference in mortality between the UK and other similar nations does not exist for other chronic medical conditions.’
Other scientists said last night the disparity was a hangover from the past. Dr Nick Hopkinson, a consultant chest physician at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, said: ‘There is a lag factor. Smoking rates have dropped but at the end of the Second World War, 90 per cent of adult men in Britain smoked – far more than in other parts of Europe.
‘People who might have stopped smoking many years ago are finding problems now.’