Abumani Ramadoss, India's health minister, said that he was "alarmed" by the results.

"The government of India is trying to take all steps to control tobacco use - in particular by informing the many poor and illiterate of smoke risks."

Illiterate smokers

The study revealed that more than half of Indian smokers were illiterate.

Indian health authorities want tobacco companies to print grisly images of tobacco-related diseases on packets of cigarettes and beedis - which are cheaper, unfiltered and contain a quarter as much tobacco as a cigarette.

But the move faces opposition from politicians keen to protect the jobs of tobacco workers.
   

The first nationwide study of smoking habits and associated mortality rates found that about 120 million Indians smoke, although they generally pick up the habit later in life.

       

Approximately 37 per cent of men and about five per cent of women aged 30 to 69 smoke either cigarettes or leaf-wrapped beedis.

  

The study projected that smoking will cause one in five deaths of Indian males and one in 20 deaths of Indian females aged 30 to 69 in the coming decade.

  

Life expectancy

Men who smoked cigarettes lost an average of 10 years of their life, while smoking beedis cut an average of six years off the life expectancy of men and eight years off for women.

  

Even occasional smokers saw their mortality risk jump.

 

Quitting smoking has been shown to greatly reduce the mortality risk. But it is an uncommon phenomenon in India, where only about two per cent of adults have quit, and they often did so only after they fell ill, the study found.

Anti-smoking campaigners are urging the government to make smoking less attractive by raising the tax on Beedies, which cost as little as $0.02 for a packet of 10.  

"The government should stop their sale sale in small shops. Only adults above 25 years of age should be able to purchase them," one told Al Jazeera.

The study was prompted by a lack of research into the nature of smoking in India and other developing countries.