Thursday, 11 July 2013

The power of tobacco to kill young people: figures from India

A report of a study today claims that over the hundred years between 1910 and 2010, tobacco has killed 100 million people prematurely. Let's be precise, a Daily Mail headline reporting the study says that tobacco has killed 100 million men under 35 years of age. The study was released by the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Cancer.

I have a lot of trouble believing this, because it means that an average of 1 million men per year have died under the age of 35 over the last 100 years. If so many young men have died so young, can their deaths be attributed to tobacco?

Well obviously I have no idea about this and the Daily Mail article does not really help, as its discussion is about bidi production: as usual, discussion of smoking and mortality takes place as if there is no other possible cause of death, and that a frighteningly high rate of bidi production makes the case that bidis killed one million young men every year by the age of 35.

India's population at the turn of the twenty-first century was around one thousand million (is that what they call a billion these days?). If mortality per thousand population was about 8.9 this means about 8.9 million deaths in 2000 – all ages, men and women. If the Daily Mail report is right, over 10 per cent of these deaths must have been males under 35 whose deaths were attributable to smoking. Of course the death rate per thousand does not remain static, and I am giving the broadest generalisations. I am no population specialist but I am sceptical about whether this study can accurately reflect mortality in India between 1910 and 2010.

It must be admitted that India does not have a high life expectancy. The earliest figure I have found goes back to 1947 when the life expectancy was under 50. By 2010 it has gone up to nearly 66. The study in question takes the 100 years up to 2010, which show an increase in life expectancy. But any consideration of life expectancy must also take into account infant mortality, which drags down the average life expectancy figure, and this is a case in point in India, where infant mortality is at record-breaking levels according to this report.

Surely in a country with such a burden of child mortality, simplistic explanations for adult deaths are not needed.

No comments: