Smoking kills about six people every minute and is the biggest cause of adult death in the developed world, said a report to be published Tuesday.
Three million people worldwide die from smoking each year and unless habits change that number will more than triple in the next two decades, warned the report, entitled "Mortality From Smoking in Developed Countries 1950-2000.""Smoking is the biggest epidemic of fatal disease with which the countries of the developed world are faced," Professor Sir Richard Doll of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, an author of the report, told a news conference.
Compiled by doctors from the ICRF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Cancer Society, it is the most comprehensive study on tobacco deaths over the past 50 years.
"In most countries the worst is yet to come. If current smoking patterns persist, then by the time the young smokers of today reach middle or old age there will be about 10 million deaths a year from tobacco - one death every three seconds," said Professor Richard Peto of the ICRF.
The dangers of smoking have been known since the 1950s, but the report, which questioned and monitored a million smokers over several years and used global death statistics, uncovered startling new data.
It showed that between 1950 and 2000, tobacco will have killed 60 million people in developed countries and of those 40 million will have been between the ages of 35 and 69.
Smoking causes about one-third of all male deaths in middle age in developed countries, but the authors of the report emphasized that people can avoid the risks if they stop smoking.
Women have not taken to the habit as early or as readily as men. But the report warned that that trend is reversing and if women smoke like men, they'll die like them.
"So far the large majority of those killed by tobacco have been males in developed countries, but the habit is now popular with wom-en in developed countries and to much larger numbers of males in developing countries," the study said.
Although the United States has only 5 percent of the world's women, it has 50 percent of the world's female deaths from smoking. Britain and Denmark also have high numbers.
The study said that, in the United States, on average among 1,000 20-year-old regular smokers about six will die from homicides, 12 from motor vehicle accidents and 250 will be killed by smoking in middle age with an additional 250 in old age.