To study the trends of smoking-attributable mortality among the low and high educated in consecutive birth cohorts in 11 European countries.
Register-based mortality data were collected among adults aged 30 to 79 years in 11 European countries between 1971 and 2012. Smoking-attributable deaths were estimated indirectly from lung cancer mortality rates using the Preston-Glei-Wilmoth method. Rate ratios and rate differences among the low and high-educated were estimated and used to estimate the contribution of inequality in smoking-attributable mortality to inequality in total mortality.
In most countries, smoking-attributable mortality decreased in consecutive birth cohorts born between 1906 and 1961 among low- and high-educated men and high-educated women, but not among low-educated women among whom it increased. Relative educational inequalities in smoking-attributable mortality increased among both men and women with no signs of turning points. Absolute inequalities were stable among men but slightly increased among women. The contribution of inequality in smoking-attributable mortality to inequality in total mortality decreased in consecutive generations among men but increased among women.
Smoking might become less important as a driver of inequalities in total mortality among men in the future. However, among women, smoking threatens to further widen inequalities in total mortality.