If present smoking patterns persist, tobacco will kill nearly a third of China's young men over the next few decades, a new study suggests. Researchers published their findings today in the British Medical Journal.

To predict tobacco-induced mortality in China, T.H. Lam of the University of Hong Kong and his colleagues assessed the mortality currently associated with smoking in Hong Kong, which peaked in cigarette consumption some 20 years earlier than mainland China did. The team studied the medical records of more than 27,000 people aged 35 or over who died in 1998, and those of more than 13,000 live control subjects. Tobacco, they found, caused 33 percent of deaths of all males between the ages of 35 and 69, and 5 percent of female deaths; among the male smokers, tobacco caused about half of all deaths.

The hazards evident in Hong Kong, the authors conclude, foreshadow "a large increase in mortality attributable to tobacco in China over the next few decades, unless there is widespread cessation by adults who already smoke."