Study shows alcohol, tobacco cause more health harm than illegal drugs

accreditation

It's smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol – and not taking illegal drugs – that pose the greatest risks to people's health, a new international study contends.

Researchers found that alcohol and tobacco use combined cost more than a quarter of a billion disability-adjusted life-years worldwide, while illegal drugs only accounted for tens of millions in comparison. Disability-adjusted life-years is a measurement of overall disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to ill health, disability or early death.

High levels of alcohol use

Worldwide, more than one in seven adults smoke tobacco, and one in five reports at least one occasion of heavy drinking in the past month, the review of 2015 data found.

Central, Eastern and Western Europe have the highest alcohol consumption per person, and the highest rates of heavy consumption among drinkers (50.5%, 48%, and just over 42%, respectively), according to the report, published in the journal Addiction.

In South Africa, 5% of women may be considered to be risky drinkers whereas 28% of men are considered risky drinkers. Risky drinkers are defined as “someone who has drunk five or more standard measurements of alcohol on a single occasion in the past 30 days”.

Those same areas also have the highest rates of tobacco smoking – Eastern Europe 24.2%, Central Europe 23.7%, and Western Europe almost 21%. According to Stats SA, 6% of women smoke tobacco daily, compared to 30% of men in South Africa.

SA government cracks down

The alcohol and tobacco industries are receiving major setbacks from the South African government. The government is moving fast ahead with the Liquor Amendment Bill. The bill states that consumers need to be 21 and over in order to legally drink alcohol. Smoking tobacco indoors and outside certain places of business and public areas will no longer be allowed. The Draft Tobacco Bill has been issued by the Department of Health for public review.  

Illicit drug use was far less common worldwide, with fewer than one in 20 people estimated to use marijuana in the past year, with much lower rates of use for amphetamines, opioids and cocaine, the researchers said.

But the United States and Canada had among the highest rates of dependence on marijuana (749 cases per 100 000 people), opioids (650 cases per 100 000) and cocaine (301 cases per 100 000), according to study co-author Robert West, of University College London and colleagues.

According to UCT researcher, Anine Kriegler, 65% to 70% of drug possession arrests and charges, in South Africa, are for the possession of marijuana. In 2017 a court judge ruled that it would be legal to grow and use marijuana in the privacy of your home. This ruling, however, has yet to be ratified.

In addition, Australia and New Zealand had the highest rate of amphetamine dependence (491.5 per 100 000 people), as well as high rates of dependence on marijuana (694 cases per 100 000 people), opioids (510 per 100 000) and cocaine use (160.5 per 100 000 people). 

Image credit: iStock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Zama zama crackdown: What are your thoughts on West Village residents taking the law into their own hands?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Authorities should bring in the army already
11% - 2096 votes
Illegal miners can't be scapegoated for all crime
47% - 8830 votes
What else did we expect without no proper policing
38% - 7106 votes
Vigilante groups are also part of the problem
4% - 695 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
16.39
+0.4%
Rand - Pound
19.80
+0.1%
Rand - Euro
16.67
+0.2%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.50
+0.5%
Rand - Yen
0.12
+1.2%
Gold
1,776.22
-0.2%
Silver
20.18
-0.5%
Palladium
2,154.00
+0.1%
Platinum
936.50
-0.2%
Brent Crude
95.10
-3.2%
Top 40
64,726
+1.1%
All Share
71,505
+1.1%
Resource 10
65,387
+3.3%
Industrial 25
87,072
+0.1%
Financial 15
16,239
+0.5%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE