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    Got my eye on your windowpane / And I’ve smoked a lot of cigarettes

    This is interesting:

    Middle-aged and elderly men who smoke heavily are more likely to commit suicide, a major survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has found.

    How, one is moved to wonder, did they go about finding the three non-heavy-smoking middle-aged and elderly men in Japan to serve as the control group?

    Yeah, I know, ba-dum-bum. It’s 2 a.m.–what do you expect? Phyllis Diller? What floored me was this part:

    A total of 108 of the 173 people who committed suicide were smokers. The rate of suicide among people who smoked less than 20 cigarettes per day was about the same as for nonsmokers, but the suicide rate of people who smoked between 30 and 39 cigarettes per day was 1.4 times higher than those in the group who smoked under 20 cigarettes a day.

    The rate of suicide for those who smoked 40 or more cigarettes a day was 1.7 times higher. Researchers said no differences were seen based on the number of years people had been smoking.

    40 cigarettes a day? How do people do that? I’m not moralizing; I’m just trying to wrap my head around it. I mean, I dated a few guys who couldn’t so much as say, “Good morning, dear,” before taking their first drag, so it’s not as if I haven’t seen chain-smoking. But 40? I know, it’s only a little over two per waking hour, which is not uncommon. It just sounds so huge when given as a total.

    That it didn’t matter how long people had been smoking is another interesting part. According to the article, MHLW thinks the nicotine itself may be the important factor, but it seems just as possible that people start puffing away more because they’re feeling stress or depression.

    5 Responses to “Got my eye on your windowpane / And I’ve smoked a lot of cigarettes”

    1. John says:

      “How, one is moved to wonder, did they go about finding the three non-heavy-smoking middle-aged and elderly men in Japan to serve as the control group?”
      Still chuckling about the one thing I do not miss about Japan. 😉

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      No kidding.
      BTW, isn’t 173 out of 45,000 way high even for elderly Japanese? I thought the national number was 35,000 for last year, and even if you estimate the population at a generous 130,000,000, one rate is almost ten times the other. I wonder whether this sample of old men was biased in other ways.

    3. John says:

      Maybe the sample was not skewed, remember this was over 10 years of data capture, from 1990 to 2000, so you’d expect the rate to be on the order of 10 times the yearly average. In Japan male suicides far outnumber female:
      “In 1980, the suicide rate (the number of suicide per 100 thousand) was 22.9 for men and 13.3 for women. It became 40.1 and 14.5 respectively in 2003.”
      And this age group takes the largest share:
      “The age breakdown of suicide rates between men and women shows how the gender role plays a crucial part. Men 50-64, especially 55-59, have the highest suicide rate. But this is a rather recent trend, and it is not observable among women.”
      The quotes are from: http://www.espacoacademico.com.br/044/44eueno_ing.htm
      I got 1999 data adjusted by age and sex from here: http://www.jca.apc.org/web-news/corpwatch-jp/47.html
      There were ~30,000 suicides in Japan in 1999, giving a total rate / 100,000 population (that’s how these things are usually reported) of 23.8.
      According to that article:
      “The number of suicides was highest among men in their 50s, rising to 7,873 in 1999 from 7,699 the year before. Men in their 40s were next, with 5,006 taking their lives.”
      Japanese men aged 50 – 59 in 1999: 19 million
      Japanese men aged 40 – 49 in 1999: 16 million
      (don’t ask how I know this).
      1999 Suicide rate for men in 50s: 41.4 / 100000
      1999 Suicide rate for men in 40s: 31.3 / 100000
      The cumulative rate of 173 / 45000 in this sample gives a rate of 384.4 / 100000 over 10 years. You can’t just multiply the yearly rate by 10 years, the statistics are not valid, but the 10 year total in this study does not look that far off to me, especially when noting that the suicide rate, dramatically increases in the 60 – 65 age cohort (it was 58 / 100000 in 2000).
      Five of the prefectures were named in your article, and they are mostly rural prefectures, so maybe economic woes there might have skewed the sample a little. There is a breakdown of the suicide rate by geography here:
      My Acrobat Reader is going crazy with these Japanese fonts, but from what I can make out on the web page, Tokyo had a pretty low 2 year rate for males 45-69 in the 1998-2000 frame: 68.4 / 100000, while Osaka had a 91.9 / 100000 rate, so there are geographic differences.

    4. John says:

      Sean, my last post was probably TMI, sorry. I get caught up in fact checking stuff like that.
      I did find one nugget I wanted to ask you about. Does this quote match your experience, or is it PC crap?:
      “Being homosexual in a homophobic community can be lethal. A 1989 study for the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 30 percent of youth suicides are committed by gay and lesbian young people.”

    5. Sean Kinsell says:

      Sheesh, what an idiot. I forgot to factor in that they studied the same group of people over ten years of stats-gathering. Back to Earth.
      As for the gay youth statistics, unfortunately, the answer is that no one knows. Given the vulnerability of that age group, I would be surprised if the rate weren’t higher for gay youth, all other things being equal. But 30% so fails to pass the common-sense test that it requires meticulous documentation, and I’ve never seen it.
      How, after all, do they figure out the kid who killed himself was gay? The studies I’ve seen don’t really satisfy on this point because they generalize from a few cases in areas that could be unrepresentative in a billion and one ways.