Booze and Cigarettes: U.N. Report on the State of the Planet

By Dirk Hanson 04/29/11

 It may be the 21st Century, but the world remains in the Dark Ages when it comes to grappling with the effects of the most popular intoxicants.

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One dead smoker every 6 seconds.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

We all know that alcohol and cigarettes can kill. But how many people actually die from them? The numbers are numbing: Around the world, 2.5 million people died from alcohol last year, and there are 60 different types of diseases in which alcohol plays an important role. Things are even worse on the tobacco front: According to the latest Global Status Report on Noncommunicable Diseases from the World Health Organization (WHO), 5 million people over the age of 15 die each year from tobacco use. The only way to make sense of that number is by breaking it down: Worldwide, one person dies of a tobacco-related death every 6 seconds. “By 2020, this number will increase to 7.5 million, accounting for 10% of all deaths,” says the report. “Smoking is estimated to cause about 71% of lung cancer, 42% of chronic respiratory disease and nearly 10% of cardiovascular disease.” It may be the 21st Century, but the world remains in the Dark Ages when it comes to understanding and grappling with the health effects of these two legal substances.

The report, released on Thursday, revealed that alcohol-related deaths account for 3.8 percent of all deaths worldwide. More than half of these deaths occur from non-communicable diseases including cancer, heart disease, and liver cirrhosis. The WHO report covers non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer and respiratory and heart diseases. A large percentage of these conditions could be prevented by reducing tobacco and alcohol use, eating a healthier diet and exercising more, the report concludes.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]