11 Aug 2014

Drinking vs smoking – which is worse? Quiz

Alcohol should come with cigarette-style health warnings, say MPs, who want more to be done to combat drinking. But when it comes to the costs of booze and fags, which is worse?

A new report from a cross-party group of MPs is calling for a range of measures to tackle what they have called a “national pandemic”.

Along with warnings on packaging, they want all alcohol to be clearly marked with a minimum unit price and calorie count, more regulation on alcohol marketing and a reduction in the drink drive limit.

In the manifesto, which lists 10 recommendations, the all-party parliamentary group on alcohol misuse outlined the sheer scale of the problems caused by alcohol. It says that 1.2 million people a year are admitted to hospital because of alcohol related problems and that rates of liver disease in those under 30 have more than doubled over the last 20 years.

But how do the effects of boozing compare with smoking?

The damage

In terms of the direct impact on our health, pitting our two major vices against each other is tricky. But there are some direct comparisons to be made.

Smoking far outweighs drinking when it comes to fatalities, for example: in the UK, there are 11 smoking-related deaths every hour compared to one an hour for alcohol, (based on figures from ASH, HSCIC and local governments).

But it’s a different story when it comes to hospital admissions: there are a staggering 137 alcohol-related admissions every single hour, compared to 61 for smoking, according to government figures.

After smoking, alcohol is the second biggest preventable killer Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe

Smoking has a huge cost to the NHS – an estimated £5.2bn – but boozed-up Britons put a massive dent in the overall economy because of the additional £11bn burden on the criminal justice system. All too often, drinking results in violence, either at home or out on the streets.

The cost works out at a staggering £1.43m every hour, and according to the report, is enough to keep more than 260,000 police officers on the streets, or 278,000 nurses working in A&E.

“After smoking, alcohol is the second biggest preventable killer,” said Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, vice-chairman of the group on alcohol misuse, who added that the drinks industry holds too much sway over politics.

“All the political parties know that but they run for cover when they are confronted by the drinks industry and its immensely powerful lobby. These proposals give them another chance to consider whether they really have the guts to take a different line for the country’s wellbeing in the future.”

And Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, chairwoman of cross-party group, said that getting political parties to seriously commit to the suggested measures would be a “massive step in tackling the huge public health issue that alcohol is.”