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The Wasp
Mr Raccoon

Yet another smoking related article choosing to ignore the actual facts.

The Telegraph has an article on their website today purporting to link the UK’s high rate of respiratory deaths with the supposed high prevalence of smoking in the UK.

Reading the article, I started to become suspicious, partly due to the lack of actual concrete statistics (admittedly nothing new these days) but mainly due to the assertion being made that people in the UK smoked more than elsewhere in Europe.

Having visited many European countries in the last few years, my personal observations in Germany, The Netherlands and Denmark, amongst others, were distinctly at odds with the facts being presented in the article so I decided to do a little digging to see how the article stood up to actual data.

Before I get to my results, the main points from the article itself :

Deaths from lung conditions and asthma are higher in Britain than any other European country due to high smoking rates, figures have shown.

A greater proportion of men and women die from respiratory conditions than in Europe, data from the Office of National Statistics has revealed.

It is thought that data collection of causes of death is more accurate in Britain but also the high rates of smoking here have left a legacy of poor health.

There are 87.7 deaths in men from respiratory conditions including flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema, asthma and lung disease, per 100,000. For women the figure is 64 deaths per 100,000. It does not include lung cancer.

However across the 27 EU member states the average rate for men was 63.4 and for women just 32.5.

The rates in Britain for men were higher than all countries including the Czech Republic, Ireland, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

More women died of respiratory conditions in Britain than anywhere else also.

Professor Stephen Spiro, spokesperson for the British Lung Foundation, said: “The results in this report about respiratory disease are unsurprising as unfortunately deaths due to lung diseases including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), lung cancer, and respiratory infection such as pneumonia, are extremely high in the UK.

“Although data collection in the UK is extremely advanced, these results are a reflection of the smoking prevalence that we have in this country and the length of time that people have smoked for.

“However in the future we expect to see the mortality rates in the UK mirrored by other countries in Europe as smoking rates continue to rise.”

Neil Churchill, Chief Executive of Asthma UK said: “These are extremely worrying statistics which highlight that comprehensive action to radically improve respiratory outcomes should be a high priority for all UK governments.

“High death rates from respiratory disease in the UK are a serious concern, especially as we know that around 90% of deaths caused by asthma are preventable.

As an aside, nice to see the rent-a-quotes from both a Professor and a righteous charity chief exec – no serious, smoking related article is complete without those!

We also have un-named “experts” as is standard for this kind of thing these days :

Experts said some Eastern European countries may now have higher smoking rates than in Britain but this is relatively recent, since they came out from Communist rule, and so the diseases have not yet manifested.

You just have to love these un-named experts – they pop up everywhere at just the right moment when a few column inches needs filling by some idle hack bashing out yet another fake charity inspired piece.

Anyway, back to the purpose of the post.

You will note for a start that the last bit of the headline “… figures have shown.” is at odds with the article itself as there is absolutely no mention of actual smoking rates anywhere in the whole piece.

With that in mind, I started with a hunt round for smoking rates in Europe and got the following WHO statistics ordered by total smoking rate :

Male Female Total
Greece 47 29 38
Germany 37 30 34
Bulgaria 44 23 33
Poland 42 25 33
Hungary 37 25 30
Latvia 47 18 30
Netherlands 35 26 30
Estonia 42 21 28
Spain 34 22 28
Luxembourg 32 22 27
Denmark 29 23 26
Czech Rep. 31 20 25
France 30 21 25
Lithuania 42 9 25
UK 26 23 25
Cyprus 38 10 24
Ireland 24 23 24
Italy 31 17 24
Malta 30 18 23
Finland 26 18 22
Romania 33 10 21
Belgium 23 16 20

Interesting to see the UK near the bottom of the table there isn’t it when you consider what the article is suggesting.

It also supports my own views of smoking rates from my travels with Germany and The Netherlands being at number two and seven respectively.

However, remember this section from the article :

There are 87.7 deaths in men from respiratory conditions including flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema, asthma and lung disease, per 100,000. For women the figure is 64 deaths per 100,000. It does not include lung cancer.

However across the 27 EU member states the average rate for men was 63.4 and for women just 32.5.

The rates in Britain for men were higher than all countries including the Czech Republic, Ireland, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

Men in the UK are dropping like flies here. Nothing to do with heavy industry, mining, The National Death service or vehicle pollution of course but all to do with smoking – according to the article at least.

From the same statistics given above, the following graph shows male smoking rates in the EU :



Well just look at that – 3rd lowest rate in the whole EU and by some margin. You could even leave out the “experts” view above on East European countries as you have the likes of Germany, France and Spain well above us.

From a purely scientific point of view, if you take the article’s assertion that deaths from lung diseases are directly related to smoking rates in some way then the only conclusion you could reach from that data is that UK men are not smoking nearly enough to protect themselves from lung disease.

Amusingly, the Professor quoted in the article says as much himself although I am sure he did not mean it in the same context :

… these results are a reflection of the smoking prevalence that we have in this country …

The only question I have left is whether the article (apparently written by the Medical Editor no less) deliberately ignored the actual statistics or has just regurgitated something pushed their way by either ASH or one of the many other righteous bansturbators without bothering to do any basic journalistic investigation.

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