Smoking is deadly for coloured people

Time of article published Aug 23, 2013

Share this article:

Wilma Stassen

Coloured South Africans are more likely to die from smoking than black or white people, according to an article published today that shows one in four coloured men die of smoking.

Published in The Lancet journal, a new analysis of nearly half a million death certificates from 1999 to 2007 shows that more than twice as many coloured people as white people die from tobacco-related causes in South Africa. Coloured people who smoked were at particularly high risk of developing illnesses such tuberculosis, lung cancer as well as cancers of the throat, mouth and oesophagus.

While the authors found that black South Africans smoked less than coloureds or whites, blacks accounted for more than half of all smoking-related deaths due to population size.

South Africa became the first and only country to record recent smoking history as part of death certification in 1998.

The study, conducted by the Medical Research Council, the National Health Laboratory Service and others, also revealed the benefits of quitting. Although a 1998 national survey found that whites smoked about twice as many cigarettes as coloureds or blacks, whites were more likely to have quit by the age of 40. Eventually kicking the habit helped reduce the risk of tobacco-related illness among whites, according to the study. Researchers warn that more needs to be done to encourage smokers to quit.

“There is already a high death rate from smoking in the mixed-ancestry coloured population of South Africa, and there will be major increases in tobacco-attributed mortality in many other African populations where young adults now smoke, unless there is widespread cessation,” said the Medical Research Council’s Debbie Bradshaw, who co-authored the study.

Lead author Freddy Sitas proposed including smoking histories in death registries in South Africa in 1994.

“Our results show that… smoking caused many deaths from cancer and heart disease, but the main way it killed, particularly in the black population, was by increasing mortality from TB and other lung diseases,” he said. “All countries have heterogeneous populations, and need to know how disease-specific mortality from smoking varies with cultural background and socio-economic status.”

Researchers have called for official death registries globally to follow South Africa’s lead.

Share this article: