It'd be easier to illustrate this to Joe Camel if he had five fingers

This Economist daily chart last week shocked me:

I should point out, though, that it wasn’t so much the chart that freaked me out. Percentages can be deceiving as there’re two numbers involved, and in this case the denominator — total deaths in a country — is going to vary wildly between countries. African countries may have more smoking deaths than North America, and may even have more smoking deaths per capita than North America, but there are myriad other causes of death in those countries which mute the relative impact of smoking.

In my mind the most shocking part of the Economist’s post was in the preamble: “Nearly one in five deaths in rich countries is caused by smoking, according to new data released this week by the World Health Organisation.”  I found that hard to believe, but a quick Google search turned up some supporting evidence.

One in five…one in five. According to the list of leading causes of death in Canada in 1997, that’s twice as many deaths as accidents, diabetes, suicide, liver disease, cirrhosis and HIV account for put together. How tobacco companies haven’t been sued — or prosecuted — into oblivion yet is beyond me.

Seeing that list does put things in perspective though. No warfare in the top 15. No genocide or famine either. No earthquakes, typhoons or tsunamis. Instead, safe from the list of things that kill the rest of the world, we voluntarily stick cancer-causing chemicals in our mouths. Unbelievable.