Posts Tagged ‘smoking’

Lifestyle factors in life expectancy

Sunday, May 1st, 2016 | Health & Wellbeing, Science


In 2008 the European EPIC study began to publish their results. The study followed over half a million people and follow-ups continue. However, one factor was clear from the moment that the results started coming in: your lifestyle choices have a big impact on your life expectancy. A paper published in PLoS Med placed the figure at 14 years.

In 2014, BMC Medicine published a paper that broke down the factors into life expectancy years.

Factor Men Women
Heavy smoking (10 or more per day) 9.4 years 7.3 years
Smoking (less than 10 per day) 5.3 years 5.0 years
Being underweight (BMI less than 22.5) 3.5 years 2.1 years
Obesity (BMI over 30) 3.1 years 3.2 years
Heavy drinking (more than 4 drinks per day) 3.1 years  
Eating processed/red meat (more than 120g per day)   2.4 years

What should we take from this? Nobody would contest that smoking is bad for you, so that is an easy one.

According to the data, the next biggest factor is maintaining a healthy body weight. This probably makes sense. In order to maintain a healthy body weight you have to eat sensibly and exercise, so it is not surprising that this correlates with a longer life expectancy.

Heavy drinking reduces your life expectancy. Interesting, this does not mean that you should cut out alcohol. Non-drinkers actually have the lowest life expectancy. It’s not much worse than being a heavy drinker, but nor is it an improvement. The longest life expectancy are those that drink moderately.

Finally, diet plays a factor too. The EPIC study, and other studies around the world are clear that processed meat takes years off your life. Red meat probably does too. Whether you can eat white meat and fish is less clear. Most studies seem to suggest they have little to no impact. However, the Loma Linda University study suggests that there could be measurable health benefits in being vegetarian. The NHS has published a summary. It concludes that vegetarians have a longer life expectancy, and there is some support for this in the EPIC study as well.

The cigarette carton dilemma

Saturday, July 7th, 2012 | Thoughts

Recently, I gave a speech on drug legislation, pointing out that tobacco is a far more dangerous drug than ecstasy is. Which is true. To add a bit of colour to my speech, I included in it the use of a bottle of alcohol and a pack of cigarettes as props.

Obviously, being a non-smoker I didn’t have any cigarettes and Ryan having disappeared for the day, I had to resort to going out and buying some. This wasn’t a big deal, they were only £3.95, but it then put forward an interesting question – what to do with the pack of cigarettes after I had used them.

My first instinct would just be to give them to a friend who smoked, so they wouldn’t go to waste. But then, maybe they should go to waste. I had just given a talk on how dangerous cigarettes were after all, and so it seemed that the best thing to do would just be to throw the pack of cigarettes away so that nobody could smoke them.

This seems to undermine freedom of choice though. I don’t want to restrict what people can and cannot do. As both a libertarian and a rationalist, the ideal world for me is one where everything is allowed but people make sensible decisions – so doing heroin would be legal, but nobody would do it because everyone makes rational decisions.

But then, by throwing them away, I wouldn’t be preventing people from smoking. I just wouldn’t be supporting it, which is all I can really do.

In the end, though, I decided to give them to a friend. The decision came down to this – the cigarette company already has my £3.95 from the sale. Now if I throw them anyway, my friends are unlikely to smoke any less, so they’ll just go out and buy some as normal and the cigarette company has got £7.90 out of us. But by giving them away, it avoids the need for them to buy cigarettes and so effectively the tobacco industry hasn’t got any money out of me. This seemed the most satisfying solution.

Smoking in pubs

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Hey, remember ten years ago when everyone smoked in pubs and it was rubbish?

I just thought I would remind us all because it’s a good example of a paradigm shift. A decade ago most of us thought that it was acceptable to smoke on confined spaces, now most of us think that it isn’t OK because the evidence shows that passive smoking does genuinely kill people[1].

Actually, it feels, at least to me, like a hole different world now. It’s not just that I’ve changed my opinion, but society itself has now fundamentally shifted its opinion to the point where I simply can’t imagine going back to the dark ages where everything smelt of smoke and your pint was served with a free topping of lung cancer.