Updated 26 August 2013

Smoking deaths highest among coloureds

The highest number of smoking-related deaths in South Africa by race are in the coloured community, a new study has found.


The highest number of smoking-related deaths in South Africa by race are in the coloured community, a new study has found.

"The analysis of nearly half-a-million death records found the highest tobacco-related mortality was in the coloured population group," the SA Medical Research Council (MRC) said on Friday.

"In this group, smoking causes one in four of all deaths in middle-aged men and one in six of all deaths in middle-aged women."

The MRC said the study was published in a research article in British medical journal The Lancet on Friday.

The council helped fund the study, along with the United Kingdom MRC, Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, and the New South Wales Cancer Council.

However, the study found that the black population accounted for more than half of all the deaths from smoking in South Africa, because of its larger numbers.

Proportion of deaths lower in black community

"At present, the death rate from smoking is not yet as high in the black African population as in the white or coloured population, but the researchers warn that this is likely to change if the large numbers of young black African adults who now smoke continue to do so."

The study found that between the ages of 35 and 64, the excess risk of death among smokers was greater in the coloured than in the white population.

The proportion of coloured people who had smoked at these ages was also much higher than whites.

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The council said South Africa was the first, and so far the only, country to record smoking on death registration forms.

The study's lead author, Professor Freddy Sitas, said the results showed that between 1999 and 2007 the main cause of death, particularly in the black African population, was tuberculosis and other lung diseases.

"It is important to understand the patterns of smoking and disease in every different country and how they vary with cultural background and socio-economic status," Sitas said.

Smoking deadly for everyone

Co-author, Dr Debbie Bradshaw, said the message that the risks of continued smoking could be as great as that experienced among the coloured smokers in the study, needed to be conveyed to all young smokers in South Africa.

Another co-author, Professor Richard Peto, said death registries around the world should ask whether the dead person was a smoker.

"This would help assess national death rates from smoking and would help countries discover whether deaths from smoking are increasing or decreasing," Peto said.

"There will be hundreds of millions of tobacco deaths this century if current smoking patterns continue."



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