Habit (re)forming

(Jan 3, 2017)

Behavioural risk factors such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are significant drivers of mortality and morbidity. In 2014, the UK NHS estimated smoking to be responsible for 78,000 deaths, or 17% of all deaths recorded that year. By comparison, ONS statistics that year attributed around 8,700 deaths directly to alcohol, which on the same basis would therefore equate to around 1.9% of deaths. Whilst these estimates put the relative mortality impacts in context, they take no account of wider social consequences, which are clearly another important area of debate.

The growth in use of e-cigarettes might be considered a large-scale public-health experiment. Despite fears to the contrary, a recent…

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Tags: mortality, smoking, alcohol

Jeanne Calment's Secret?

(Sep 15, 2015)

The story of Jeanne Calment, as the oldest verified human, represents an intriguing case for longevity practitioners, and serves as something of a cautionary tale for those in the annuity and pensions space. At age 90, she exchanged ownership of her apartment upon her death for a lifetime annuity of 2500 francs per month. The lawyer paying her annuity, Andre-Francois Raffray died of cancer in 1995 and left his family to continue payment. Calment survived a further two years before dying of natural causes aged 122.

It seems obvious that longevity has a substantial genetic component, but that doesn't mean such a component will prove simple to isolate. Late last year an ambitious attempt to map the genome of a group…

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Tags: longevity, research, smoking, centenarians

Weighing The Evidence

(Mar 10, 2015)

We've previously discussed the significant challenges involved in forecasting mortality by cause of death. Needless to say it isn't any easier to predict the impact of trends in lifestyle factors that drive those causes. One example is the research actvity around rising obesity, and specifically around the possibility rising obesity may negate the improvements in smoking-related mortality. Sturm and Wells (2000) asserted that obesity had a significantly higher impact on health outcomes than lifetime smoking or poverty. They reasserted these conclusions in 2002. It is clear that in both the US and UK we do see a diminishing prevalence of smoking allied with surging increases in obesity, but working out…

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Tags: obesity, mortality improvements, smoking, back-test

Health Experiments

(Jun 17, 2013)

One interesting aspect of Scottish devolution is the different path charted in health policy.  Residents of Scotland have long had a shorter life expectancy than other parts of the United Kingdom, which is partly a function of greater smoking prevalence and poorer diet (amongst other deleterious health behaviours).  Greater alcohol (mis)use is another major problem area, and it is interesting to see some of the trailblazing public-health policies in recent years for alcohol and tobacco:

One obvious initiative - increasing the tax on alcohol,…

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Tags: Scotland, alcohol, tobacco, smoking

No smoking without fire

(May 2, 2013)

Socio-economic differentials in life expectancy have a long history in the United Kingdom. A large part of this over the last few decades has been stark differences in smoking rates - people of a high socio-economic status are much less likely to smoke, resulting in longer life expectancy.

However, people also tend to associate with those of a similar socio-economic group, so I know relatively few smokers.  As a result, I was unaware of some changes in smoking habits until I saw the joiner refitting our office sucking on his pen a lot.  It turned out not to be a pen, but an electronic cigarette. The joiner had been a forty-a-day man - sixty if the day ended in a night out - until he replaced his favourite brand with a…

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Tags: smoking, e-cigarettes, mortality improvements

(Not) Falling for the Fallacy

(Jul 26, 2010)

An important concept is demography is the ecological fallacy.  This is where aggregate data for a group are used to draw erroneous inferences about individuals belonging to the group.  The less well known flip side to this is the atomistic fallacy (or individualistic fallacy), where attributes of individuals are used to make incorrect generalisations about the group to which they belong.

A related example of this was illustrated in an earlier posting on the link between smoking propensity and geodemographic type.  In the P 2 classification, people in category L were three times more likely to smoke than people in category A.  People in category L therefore tended to have higher mortality and didn't live as…

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Tags: ecological fallacy, smoking, geodemographics, asbestos

Where there's smoke...

(Jul 24, 2010)

Amongst its other claims to fame, Scotland produced one of the earliest prominent anti-smoking campaigners - our very own King James VI was an early opponent of tobacco consumption and smoking:

"A custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs"

King James VI & I, A Counterblaste to Tobacco (1604)


Fans of historical fact will note that when King James wrote this he had also become King James I of England and Ireland.  Unfortunately, the king's Scottish subjects didn't listen to him, then or now, and Scots have a higher incidence of smoking than other parts of the United Kingdom:

"In 2003, 26% of British adults aged 16+ smoked cigarettes…

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Tags: smoking, lung cancer, Scotland

Top of the table

(Oct 16, 2009)

In an earlier post we also showed how the U.K. was top of the obesity league amongst major EU nations.   Happily, the U.K. is top of a more constructive EU league table, namely the (lack of) affordability of cigarettes.  Cigarettes and smoking are most commonly associated with lung cancer, but they are responsible for a bewildering number of deaths worldwide.  Anything which makes cigarettes less affordable or accessible is therefore a public-health matter and of prime interest to mortality studies.

Guindon et al (2002) calculated the affordability of cigarettes in 1991 and 2000.  The cigarettes were Marlboro (or the nearest equivalent international brand), and the price was divided by the weighted net hourly…

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Tags: smoking, cigarettes

Sweating your data assets

(Apr 16, 2009)

In recent years insurers have looked to making better use of the data they already have. The appeal is simple: if you have already collected the data, then it is like leaving money on the table if it is not being exploited to the full. Worse, if your competitors make better use of their data, you can be selected against and lose money.

The biggest change has been in insurers' attitude towards the use of postcodes. Postcodes have to be collected and maintained anyway as part of normal business, so any extra value which can be squeezed out of them is a low-cost bonus.  As we will see, this can sometimes even be a zero-cost bonus.

Every UK residential postcode can be assigned a geodemographic type to describe the sort of people…

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Tags: postcodes, geodemographics, smoking, missing data, P-squared

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