WOMEN smokers can live for an extra 10 years if they quit the habit before middle age.
A study of 1.3m women found that smoking trebled the chances of dying over nine years compared with non-smokers.
Most of the increased death rate resulted from smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease or stroke.
The risk rose steeply with the quantity of tobacco smoked, but even those who puffed fewer than 10 cigarettes a day doubled their likelihood of dying.
Smokers who kicked the habit around 30 avoided 97pc of their excess risk of premature death.
The authors of the Million Women Study wrote in The Lancet medical journal: "Smokers lose at least 10 years of lifespan. Although the hazards of smoking until age 40 years and then stopping are substantial, the hazards of continuing are 10 times greater."
Women aged 50 to 65 were enrolled into the study, designed to investigate links between health and lifestyle, from 1996 to 2001.
Participants completed a questionnaire about living habits, medical and social factors and were re-surveyed three years later. Women were monitored for a total of 12 years on average, during which there were 66,000 deaths.
Initially, 20pc of the women were smokers, 28pc were ex-smokers, and 52pc had never smoked.
Those who still smoked at the three year re-survey were almost three times more likely to die over the next nine years.
Both the hazards of smoking and the benefits of quitting were greater than previous studies had suggested.
Co-author Professor Sir Richard Peto, from Oxford University, said: "If women smoke like men, they die like men -- but, whether they are men or women, smokers who stop before reaching middle age will on average gain about an extra 10 years of life."
He added: "Women born around 1940 were the first generation in which many smoked substantial numbers of cigarettes throughout adult life.
"Hence, only in the 21st century could we observe directly the full effects of prolonged smoking."