Chattanooga Times Free Press - Parade

Ask Marilyn

- By Marilyn vos Savant

Maybe you can help me with a math problem. We hear about the number of smoking-related deaths annually, but we never hear them reported as a percentage of smokers. Reports indicate that approximat­ely 20 percent of adults in this country are smokers, which amounts to about 50 million Americans. I’ve also heard that roughly 500,000 people die each year from smoking-related illnesses. This translates to only 1 percent of all smokers! Despite the hysteria, it appears that a relatively small percentage of smokers die as a direct result of smoking. Am I off-base here? —T. M., Millbrae, Calif. Yes! Those deaths occur every year, not just once. The World Health Organizati­on states that up to half of current users will eventually die of a tobaccorel­ated disease.

Regardless, the sheer volume of news stories with incorrectl­y reported statistics is causing a backlash from smart people like you who know perfectly well that nonsmokers also die of cancer and heart attacks, but when smokers die of those same diseases, they are said to be related to their smoking. So let’s sum up those statistics with one that can’t be misreporte­d: According to a study published last year in The New England Journal of Medicine, lifelong smokers die about 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.

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