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Sharp decline in smoking – longer, healthier lives

With fewer Finns smoking, the number of cases of tobacco-related cancers has plummeted by approximately 80% since the 1970s. People are now living an average decade longer and are healthier, in part because fewer smoke.

Tupakka-aski.
Image: Yle

In the 1970s more than one out of two Finnish men smoked. Since then, a combination of education about the dangers of smoking and public action to reduce tobacco consumption has been a major success in breaking the habit.

"Tobacco legislation, higher taxes, a ban on advertising, help with quitting," are among the factors influencing the decline listed by Professor Pekka Puska, the nation's leading expert of public health and health policy.

Today no more than 15% of the population smokes.

”A reduction in smoking is no longer as strategic in public policy as it was during those darker years, but for those people who still smoke it is overwhelmingly their greatest problem," says professor Puska.

Since the 1970s, mortality rates among people of working age in Finland have fallen by 70%-80%.  Cases of tobacco-related cancers have also plummeted by approximately 80%.

Life expectancy has risen by ten years. What has been the significance of less smoking?

Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitoksen entinen pääjohtaja Pekka Puska.
Professor Pekka Puska. Image: Yle

"That is hard to say. The effect of diet has certainly accounted for more than half of this, but the decline in smoking has surely added years to the [average] length of life," Pekka Puska explains.

Mortality rates for tobacco-related causes among those who still smoke continue to be high, though. Professor Puska notes that studies show that half of all smokers die because of their habit.

With the start of a new year, Professor Puska is urging smokers to turn over a new leaf and to quit smoking, for example with the aid of nicotine replacement products.

"If well planned, and with a real desire, it's possible to quit. If you don't succeed the first time, it's worthwhile taking a break and then trying again. Sooner or later you'll quit smoking. There must be well over a million Finns who have quit and I've never met anyone who regretted it," says Pekka Puska.

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