A recent study finds that women are catching up to men when it comes to the risk of death from smoking.

The study, published earlier this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, examines the first generation of U.S. women who started smoking early in life and continued smoking for decades.

While studies from the 1980s suggested smoking risks in women were low, this study found that as women’s smoking habits began to mirror men’s, so have their mortality rates.

“The hazards among women who continue to smoke now approximate those among male smokers,” the study’s authors said.

Since the 1980s, a woman’s risk of dying from lung cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease and other smoking-related causes increased by 50 per cent.

“Basically, if women smoke like men, they die like men,” study author Dr. Prhabhat Jha told CTV News. “That means about a decade of life lost. Not a few years, but a full decade -- a healthy decade of life lost.”

The study, which looked at health records from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey, found that people who never smoked were twice as likely to live to age 80 than those who had.

And while the study found that smoking cuts around 10 years off a person’s lifespan, it also found that smokers who quit before the age of 40 can regain many of those years back.

According to the research, people who quit smoking between 35 and 44 years of age gained about nine years of life back. Those who quit between ages 45-54 and 55-64 gained six and four years of life, respectively.

Dr. Tim McAfee of the U.S. Center for Disease Control said the findings are remarkable.

“Somebody quits before the age of 40, they gain a lot of that back. They gain almost a decade of life, which is incredible,” McAfee said.

Jha said these findings don’t mean that it’s OK to smoke until you’re 40. However, it will dispel the notion that if you’ve been smoking for more than a decade, it’s too late to quit, he said.

“Quitting at any age will have benefits, but particularly if you quit before age 40, you get close to never-smoker death rates,” Jha said.

“The most important message is that quitting works,” he added. “Cessation of smoking at an early age -- even up to age 40 -- avoids about 90 per cent of the risk of continuing to smoke.”

The study examined data from the U.S. National Death Index, focusing on 16,000 records of people who had died and had reported smoking earlier in life.

But smoking cessation experts say the study is troubling.

Manitoba Tobacco Reduction Alliance President Murray Gibson said there’s no such thing as a “safe” amount of smoking, and many struggle to quit the addictive habit.

“A lot of young people, or younger aged people, will say ‘Oh, when I get to be 40 I’ll just quit. What they don’t realize is the difficulty that they may face in trying to do that,’” he said.

With a report from CTV’s Winnipeg Bureau Chief Jill Macyshon