Still a Ruthless Killer: Smoking’s Global Toll

smoking health threats

Plus: A look at “poison pot,” and a poll revealing the main barriers to addiction and mental health treatment

By William Wagner

The opioid epidemic garners many of the headlines—and with good reason, given its lethality—but smoking tobacco remains the most persistent health threat. Newly published research in The Lancet breaks down some of the disturbing global smoking trends.

We also shine a light on how the growing popularity of marijuana-based products like edibles has led to a surge in calls to poison control centers, as well as a new poll that pinpoints affordability and availability as the two main treatment obstacles.

The enormous health and economic consequences of the global tobacco epidemic make tobacco control a clear and urgent public health priority.”—study in “The Lancet”

From The Lancet:
The Tobacco Epidemic

Culling data from 3,625 surveys, the Global Burden of Disease has produced a bleak picture of smoking trends worldwide from 1990 to 2019. Among the findings in the comprehensive study (for the year 2019):

  • There were 1.1 billion smokers.
  • Smoking was the cause of 7.7 million deaths.
  • Approximately 7.4 trillion cigarettes or cigarette equivalents (such as cigars or cigarillos) were consumed— 20.3 billion per day.
  • Among the 204 countries included in the study, the 10 with the largest numbers of smokers were China, India, Indonesia, the United States, Russia, Bangladesh, Japan, Turkey, Vietnam, and the Philippines, with those nations comprising two-thirds of the total smoking population.
  • “Smoking prevalence” was above 20% among males in 151 counties and among females in 42.
  • Smoking was the cause of more than 20% of all deaths for males in 73 countries and for females in two.

All told, more than 200 million deaths have been caused by smoking over the past three decades. And, the study’s authors state in The Lancet, “[w]ith more than 1 billion current smokers globally in 2019, these numbers are likely to increase over the coming decades. The enormous health and economic consequences of the global tobacco epidemic make tobacco control a clear and urgent public health priority. Effective implementation and enforcement of tobacco control policies and interventions can both increase healthy life expectancy and decrease health-care costs.”

From the JAMA Network:
Poison Pot

The popularity of marijuana-based manufactured products such as edibles and vapes has boomed in recent years, especially in states where recreational use of the drug is legal. With that popularity has come a spike in marijuana-related calls to poison control centers, according to new research published on the JAMA Network. “Our findings document that U.S. poison centers are increasingly receiving calls about adverse events associated with exposures to manufactured cannabis products,” the study’s authors write. “Higher rates in legal states suggest that continued increases may be expected with adult cannabis use legalization in more states. Children may be at particular risk for exposure to edible products, such as cookies or candy.” The researchers say that marijuana-related calls to poison control centers jumped from 8,200 in 2017 to 11,100 in 2019, with more than half those calls in the latter year being tied to manufactured products.

From the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult:
Addiction and Mental Health Treatment Barriers

Many people do indeed seem to want to seek help for their addiction and mental health issues, but they are thwarted by a lack of treatment affordability and availability. That’s the message from a recent poll conducted by the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult. According to the data, Americans believe affordability (51%) and a dearth of providers seeing new patients (41%) are the two largest obstacles to receiving treatment.

This survey shows that we must tackle the high cost and the enormous shortage of mental health professionals in our country by advancing the integration of primary care and mental health and substance use services.”—Marilyn Serafini, Bipartisan Policy Center

“As the demand for mental health and addiction services continue to rise, it’s critical that policymakers design policies that make treatment options more affordable, more available, and more flexible,” Marilyn Serafini, director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Health Project, said in a news release. “This survey shows that we must tackle the high cost and the enormous shortage of mental health professionals in our country by advancing the integration of primary care and mental health and substance use services. We know integrated care works. It enhances treatment, improves outcomes, and is cost effective.”

Photo: Amritanshu Sikdar

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