A smoking epidemic may hit India, where about 120 million people are addicted to smoking. Cigarettes may kill millions of people by 2010, with almost one million death a year.
Indian smokers start later and smoke fewer cigarettes than those in Europe and America. However ,the death risk in India remains very high.
The study, one of the most comprehensive ever in India, sent 900 field workers to survey 1.1 million homes across the country. They compared the smoking history of 74,000 adults who died from 2001 to 2003 with 78,000 living adults.
Over 30 percent of Indian men and 5 percent of women between 30 and 69 years of age usually smoke cigarettes or bidis – small cheap cigarettes with one-fourth of tobacco of a regular cigarette.
Bidis enjoy great popularity among poor Indians because of their cheaper price.
Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said he was alarmed by the study's findings.
"The government of India is trying to take all steps to control tobacco use — in particular by informing the poor and the illiterate," he said in a statement.
While an increasing number of countries prohibit smoking in public places, people in India freely puff away in playgrounds, railway stations, sidewalk cafes and even hospitals, the AP reports.
Ramadoss has helped enact a number of laws banning smoking in various public places, but most are routinely ignored. Last month he asked some of the country's top movie actors to stop smoking on screen.
A recent government effort to introduce pictorial health warnings recommended by WHO has run into legal delays, with tobacco companies fighting to keep them off cigarette packets.
According to a WHO study released last week, nearly two-thirds of the world's smokers live in 10 countries led by China, which accounts for nearly 30 percent, and India with about 10 percent. They are followed by Indonesia, Russia, the United States, Japan, Brazil, Bangladesh, Germany and Turkey.