Scientists Finally Discover Why Some Smokers Have ‘Healthy Lungs’

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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British scientists have answered the mysterious question of why some life-long smokers have few if any major lung problems and live as long as their non-smoking peers.

A study of 50,000 people aged between 40 and 69 showed that some people’s genetic make-up helped reduce the risk of contracting some of the most notorious smoking-related diseases.

The researchers examined smokers and non-smokers as well as those with COPD and those without it. Researchers then compared these characteristics were with a stunning 28 million genetic variants in each of the 50,000 subjects.

Using the U.K.’s Biobank project that contains the records of 500,000 people, scientists funded by the Medical Research Council found that Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which encompasses emphysema and bronchitis, was less prevalent in some patients thanks to their genetic code.

Speaking to the BBC, professor Martin Tobin from the University of Leicester, said:

There doesn’t appear to be any kind of magic bullet that would give anyone guaranteed protection against tobacco smoke – they would still have lungs that were unhealthier than they would be had they been a non-smoker.

The study also suggests there may be genetic differences between people that could make them more likely to be addicted to cigarettes.

Scientists discovered there were five sections of DNA code that could be linked to whether an individual was a heavy smoker. One part of the research outlined how genes affected brain function and response to nicotine.

The study’s authors said the findings could act as a springboard for finding more complex and effective ways to help people quit tobacco.

“Our research helps to tell us why, paving the way for improved prevention and treatment. Stopping smoking is the best way to prevent smoking-related diseases such as COPD, cancers and heart disease,” said Tobin. The results were presented at the annual European Respiratory Society (ERS) meeting in Amsterdam.

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Guy Bentley