talking point | the blog at LeeHudsonTeslik.com

Are Spaniards Immune to Cigarettes?

Posted in Public Health by teslik on October 29, 2009

The Economist posted a chart today showing which countries have the highest number of smoking related deaths, as a percentage of total deaths of people over 30.

Smokers

I found the chart fairly surprising–I knew per capita smoking rates were incredibly high in countries like China and Russia, so it surprised me that smoking accounted for a comparatively smaller percentage of deaths there than in the United States or Canada, which are known for having lower smoking rates than even western Europe. So I looked up global per capita smoking rates (measured in number of cigarettes smoked by an average adult per year). Sure enough, the levels don’t track very well with the death rates.

smoking2

What I suspect accounts for the difference is the fact that many causes of death in places like China and Russia are easily treated in the United States–a factor which theoretically could spike the percentage of deaths from smoking. The obvious counterargument is that treatment for smoking-related illnesses should presumably also improve in developed economies like the United States. Perhaps these types of illnesses are simply less treatable, even under the best of medical circumstances?

Another confusing wrinkle is Spain. Compare Spain to the United States. Note that Spaniards smoke far more–but a far lower percentage die of it! Are they dying of something else? Or are they just immune to cigarettes?!