Why we’re again world’s longest living?

Hong Kong has the world’s highest life expectancy for a seventh year – because locals do not smoke as much as people in high-income countries, University of Hong Kong doctors have found.

In the largest and most comprehensive assessment of Hong Kong’s longevity to date, the HKU’s medical school compared 263 million deaths from Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and 18 high-income countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development between 1979 and 2016.

The study showed that on average males in Hong Kong live 1.86 years longer than the others while local women live 2.5 years longer than counterparts in the other countries.

Hong Kong has since 2013 maintained the world’s highest life expectancy after surpassing Japan.

According to the statistics from the Center for Health Protection, the life expectancy from birth for men and women in Hong Kong was 82.7 years and 88.1 years respectively in 2020.

After the comparative assessments with other countries, the HKU researchers found for the first time that Hong Kong’s longevity is attributed to the lowest mortality rate for cardiovascular diseases in men and women as well as it having one of the lowest mortality rates of cancer among women.

Such an achievement is underpinned by Hong Kong’s managing to maintain one of the world’s lowest rates of smoking – 10.2 percent – compared to other high-income countries.

The SAR’s low smoking rate accounts for 50.5 percent and 34.8 percent of survival advantage for men and women respectively.

“Deaths due to smoking in Hong Kong men have been substantially lower than in high-income countries since 1979,” Michael Ni Yuxuan, a clinical associate professor at HKU’s school of public health, noted yesterday.

“For women, deaths due to smoking have increased in high-income countries, but in contrast the corresponding rate in Hong Kong women has remained stable for the past four decades, leading to a widening gap in smoking-attributable mortality between Hong Kong and high-income countries.”

Among factors that contribute to premature death, people’s behavior patterns account for 40 percent. And smoking is the single largest cause of preventable death.

“This is an important finding to potentially save the largest number of lives in Hong Kong and worldwide – precisely because the policy solutions are well rehearsed and directly attributable to longevity,” said Gabriel Leung, dean of HKU’s Faculty of Medicine.

“Hong Kong has outperformed [other countries] in the past seven years,” he noted. “The biggest contributing factor is that we have done a good job in tobacco control.”

According to statistics from the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, the smoking prevalence in the SAR dropped gradually from 23.3 percent in the early 1980s to 10.2 percent in 2019, making it among the lowest in the world.

The use of tobacco remains high, for instance, in European countries including France, Germany, Portugal and Spain. They all have smoking rates of more than 20 percent.

While the paper is pending before being published in the journal The Lancet Public Health, Leung said now was a critical time to reveal the results because the Legislative Council’s Smoking Amendment Bills Committee is on Friday holding a vital meeting on smoking questions and bans.

Researchers and anti-smoking campaigners are pressing legislators to push a complete ban on electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products.

There is a fear that allowing heated tobacco products into Hong Kong will lead to a surge in the number of young people smoking, leading to increases cases of sickness and death.

Sustaining Hong Kong’s successful tobacco control might well save more lives than the effort has already achieved, Leung added, and the effects could be felt for many more decades.

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