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Tobacco Health Threat Dwarfs Terrorism

Thursday 26 January 2006

Tobacco Health Threat Dwarfs International Terrorism Deaths

Public health researchers call for policymakers to take actual risks into account

The tobacco death burden in developed and Eastern European countries is equivalent to the impact of a 9/11-type terrorist attack every 14 hours, according to a newly published study by University of Otago public health researchers.

Estimated annual deaths from tobacco were approximately 5,700 times greater than those from international terrorist attacks, according to public health researchers Dr George Thomson and Dr Nick Wilson of the University’s Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

The researchers compared the estimated 1.9 million people in developed and Eastern European countries who died from tobacco in the year 2000, with the 3298 lives lost in international terrorist attacks in these same countries between 1994 and 2003.

“We found that the absolute annual burden from tobacco use was highest for the United States at 514,000 deaths per year in 2000, which is equivalent to the impact of an 9/11 type terrorist attack every 2.1 days,” says Dr Thomson.

The study, which is published in the international journal Globalization and Health, is part of wider attempt by the researchers to put international terrorism into a public health context, by comparing its mortality burden with those of other preventable causes of premature death.

“In the last 20 or more years governments have spent considerable sums in attempts to combat international terrorism, as well as introducing new laws,” he says. “However, despite tobacco mortality’s far greater scale, the policy response by government on tobacco has been much weaker.”

Dr Thomson suggests that differences in the risk perception for the two types of mortality, arising in part from the high profile and dramatic nature of terrorist attacks, may contribute to this response.

“While a strong focus on combating terrorism is understandable, given the political significance of attacks by terrorist groups, and their economic and psychological effects, it’s important that national and international policymakers also take into account the great number of lives that could be saved through directing far more resources to stronger tobacco control measures,” he says.


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