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Smoking and the compression of morbidity


OBJECTIVE To examine whether eliminating smoking will lead to a reduction in the number of years lived with disability (that is, absolute compression of morbidity).

DESIGN Multistate life table calculations based on the longitudinal GLOBE study (the Netherlands) combined with the Longitudinal Study of Aging (LSOA, United States of America).

SETTING the Netherlands.

SUBJECTS Dutch nationals aged 30–74 years living in the city of Eindhoven and surrounding municipalities (GLOBE) and United States citizens age 70 and over (LSOA).

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES Life expectancy with and without disability and total life expectancy at ages 30 and 70.

RESULTS A non-smoking population on balance spends fewer years with disability than a mixed smoking-non-smoking population. Although non-smokers have lower mortality risks and thus are exposed to disability over a longer period of time, their lower incidence of disability and higher recovery from disability yield a net reduction of the length of time spent with disability (at age 30: −0.9 years in men and −1.1 years in women) and increases the length of time lived without disability (2.5 and 1.9 years, for men and women, respectively). These outcomes indicate that elimination of smoking will extend life and the period of disability free life, and will compress disability into a shorter period.

CONCLUSIONS Eliminating smoking will not only extend life and result in an increase in the number of years lived without disability, but will also compress disability into a shorter period. This implies that the commonly found trade off between longer life and a longer period with disability does not apply. Interventions to discourage smoking should receive high priority.

  • smoking
  • morbidity

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  • Funding: this study was supported by the Priority Programme on Population Research of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

  • Conflicts of interest: none.