A third of men currently under 20 years old across China are expected to eventually face premature death due to the growing number of people with consistent smoking habits, a new study warns. Tobacco usage caused the death of nearly 1 million people in the country in 2010, the BBC reported. Researchers predict that if the current trend continues, the number of people dying in China will grow to 2 million, with mostly men dying every year after two decades.

The study shows that two-thirds of men in China today start smoking in China before reaching the age of 20, while only 2.4 percent of Chinese women used to smoke. The smoking habit is projected to cause the death of around half of those men.

The findings come from two nationwide studies involving hundreds of thousands of people, conducted 15 years apart. Researchers from Oxford University, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the Chinese Centre for Disease Control, published the study in the journal Lancet Medical.

China can still prevent the projected trend of deaths because of tobacco by encouraging smokers to quit, according to study co-author Richard Peto. "The key to avoid this huge wave of deaths is cessation, and if you are a young man, don't start," Peto added.

However, it would be difficult as smoking has been a well-established activity in the daily life of Chinese people, and few understand the impacts of tobacco to human health. The World Health Organisation, or WHO, reported that only 25 per cent of Chinese adults know the specific health risks of smoking, such as lung cancer and heart disease.

In addition, only 10 percent of smokers in the country quit by choice, while most tend to suffer from a disease to be forced to give up the habit. Smoking rates were also found to increase in China as cigarettes are becoming more available and the consumers become wealthier.

To date, China has been considered the biggest consumer and producer of cigarettes worldwide. More than 300 million people, representing a quarter of the Chinese population, have a smoking habit, and an average smoker consumes 22 cigarettes per day.

Despite the efforts of local governments in China to halt the increasing number of smokers, the tobacco industry has been offering benefits to the country that hampers the efforts to stop smoking. Cigarettes have been a source of tax revenue, which the government is able to collect about 428 billion yuan, or US$67 billion, each year.

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