2nd June 2017, Volume 130 Number 1456

Murray Laugesen, Randolph C Grace

In New Zealand, life expectancy at birth extended 3.6 years for males when measured in 1998 by changes over the previous 10 years. Life expectancy at age one was approximately…

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New Zealanders are living much longer due to giving up tobacco smoking in the 1985–1995 period. Diet had an improving effect. In 1988, men were living 3.6 years more than 10 years before, and women 2.8 years more. That is equal to three months gain in life per person over these 10 years. Most of the effect has benefited men. Tobacco consumption per adult fell by 41% in these 10 years. To do that, the price of cigarettes went up 230%, and we started eating more vegetables and fruit and a variety of polyunsaturated fats.



We compared changes in tobacco consumption and diet in relation to changes in life expectancy in 1988–1998 in 22 OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries.


Between 1985 and 1995 using regression analysis we estimated differences in tobacco consumption per adult and the differences in the sum of atherogenic and thrombogenic indices against life expectancy. Each index was derived from the various fats per gram of food from standard texts, and from the annual measurements of fat in the food balance sheets of each country.


In 1985–1995, New Zealand showed the largest decrease in tobacco consumption per adult (41%) and the greatest decrease (except for Switzerland) in the sum of atherogenic and thrombogenic indices (17%) as a measure of diet. New Zealand ranked first for life expectancy increases from 1988–1998 for men (3.6 years), women (2.8 years) and both sexes combined. Regression analyses revealed that increases in life expectancy across the OECD for males, but not females, were strongly associated with decreases in tobacco consumption, with a weaker effect of diet improvement.


These results suggest that reduced tobacco consumption in 1985–1995 likely contributed to New Zealand’s gains in life expectancy from 1988–1998.

Author Information

Murray Laugesen, Adjunct Professor; Randolph C Grace, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Canterbury.


Dr Murray Laugesen, Adjunct Professor, 267 Memorial Ave, Burnside, Christchurch 8053.

Correspondence Email


Competing Interests



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