Cancer in 2012 became the chief cause of death in Cuba for the first time, accounting for 25 percent of all fatalities while exceeding heart disease and cerebrovascular illnesses, the official daily Granma said Saturday.

Some 59 percent of those who died of cancer last year were under 75 years old, a statistic specialists refer to as "premature mortality" in a country where life expectancy for men is 78.2 years and for women 81.3.

The specialist at the Public Health Ministry, Idalia Cardero, told Granma that the chief risk factors of the illness on the island are associated with tobacco, inadequate food, obesity, insufficient physical activity and the harmful drinking of alcohol, all factors that can be prevented.

Cardero said that according to studies taken in Cuba, the harmful consumption of alcoholic beverages is gradually increasing from adolescence onward and among the female population.

Research carried out between 2001-2010 also showed an upturn in smoking among children and teenagers, even as the habit grows less prevalent among adults.

Some 9.7 percent of active smokers in Cuba are adolescents, and 75 percent of smokers admit they began before they turned 20.

The Public Health Ministry also warned of a growing trend of overweight and obesity among the adult population, with an increase from 32 percent in 1995 to 47.6 percent in 2011.

In view of that situation, Granma said Saturday that health authorities are calling on the population "to take an active part in caring for their own health and the health of those close to them," in evaluating their lifestyles and in having regular medical checkups. EFE