Follow up from Vox

Vox, a great source of data-driven analysis and explanation. weighs in onthe  relative harm of marijuana versus alcohol.


Chart showing tobacco causes more deaths than alcohol or drugs.

Vox went to the same source the datasaur refered to — the 2013 death counts from the Center for Disease Control. And Vox improves the discussion by adding in the most dangerous drug of all, which is tobacco.

The chart at the top of this article actually understates the number of tobacco deaths, since it only considers the most direct causes of deaths and excludes secondhand smoking, perinatal conditions, and residential fires.

Overall, cigarette smoking is linked to one in five deaths in the US each year, according to CDC estimates for average annual fatalities based on deaths between 2005 and 2009. Nearly 42,000 of the total 480,000 deaths from smoking are caused by secondhand smoke.


Further on in the article, Vox does a nice job of articulating the limitation of data-based analysis. It is this: we cannot always measure perfectly the thing we are trying to understand. And sometimes, even when we can measure it, we realize that what we measured isn’t all that matters.

Regarding dangerous drugs, the tally of deaths seems like an obvious measure. And the CDC gives us a tally of deaths. But some of the deaths that show up as “by fire” are people who went to sleep with a cigarette burning; some of the deaths that show up as “auto accident” involved a drunk driver.  We really don’t know all the factors that contributed to a outcome.

And besides, even if we could tally deaths perfectly, deaths are not the only kind of social harm. We could also consider what contributes to the social evil of puke on the sidewalk. Or how drugs of all kinds disrupt families:


All hail the Rainmakers!