What Kills More People: Sugar or Cigarettes?

You might find this a bit of a silly question, but a close look at the statistics will show you that the competition for what kills more people isn’t even close.

Which is Worse


Everybody knows that cigarettes are bad – but that wasn’t always the case. It took years before people actually understood that cigarettes caused damage to our bodies. Part of the reason for this is that humans are very good at picking out immediate dangers, but have a much more difficult time when dangers come slowly. After all, smoking one cigarette does no harm; in fact it makes you feel calmer, alert and gives you a boost of energy. The damage that happens from cigarettes is not that noticeable until you wake up one morning with a cough.

Cigarettes do cause harm, though, and they are linked not only to lung cancer, but also heart disease, stroke and a number of other diseases. If we use world-wide figures, the deaths from cigarettes amount to around 5 million deaths a year.

Now, let’s see how sugar stacks up.


Could sugar be the same as cigarettes? Could the damage done by sugar happen so slow that no one notices it? The answer to that question is yes.

While you won’t find medical doctors admitting that sugar causes harm, there is a growing number of research studies that are demonstrating that there is a connection between the amount of sugar we eat and obesity. How many world-wide deaths are attributable to obesity? The number is 17 million deaths a year. No one dies from being obese, though. Being overweight increases the risks for other diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and even some cancers. Sugar has also been shown to directly cause diabetes and heart disease, even in someone with normal weight.

What are the world-wide deaths from these conditions? Let’s add them up:

Obesity:                17 million deaths

Heart disease:  17 million deaths

Diabetes:                4 million deaths

Total:                     38 million deaths

Now, some of these figures overlap (some obesity deaths may also be due to heart disease or diabetes), so let’s conservatively cut that number in half and use a number of 15 million deaths every year from sugar-related causes. This means that sugar is most likely responsible for three times the number of deaths that cigarettes are, and, yet, we let our children eat the stuff every day.

Don’t be a Frog

Many of you know the science experiment where you try to place a frog in very hot water and it jumps out, but if you slowly heat the pot the frog is in, it will kill the frog because he never notices the increasing heat.

Sugar is like that, you don’t notice the damage it does because it happens slowly over time. So, don’t be a frog. Notice now that what you are eating every day has an impact on your health when you are older.My book, Sugarettes can show you how to break the cycle of sugar addiction.

About the Author

I'm Dr. Scott Olson ND. I'm a Naturopathic doctor who specializes in diet, health, nutrition, and alternative medicine. I've written numerous books and articles on health, medicine, and alternative medicine I want to help you get healthy! Take a look at my blog and make sure you join in the conversation!

16 Comments on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Terri March 30, 2015 at 8:26 am - Reply

    Hi Dr. Scott,
    Another question, what would you suggest I can replace my white chocolate powder in my lattes? I do not like my lattes plain and I’ve tried alternatives and I do not believe in sugar free products that are just replaced with chemicals. Thank you, Terri

  2. Terri March 30, 2015 at 8:22 am - Reply

    Hi Dr. Scott,
    I would love any helpful advice how to eliminate sugar? I have a horrible sweet tooth and I love chocolate!! I’ve tried so many times to cut out on the candy and I always seem to give in. Grrr…hopeless sugar addict

    • Dr. Scott March 30, 2015 at 9:47 am - Reply


      Kicking sugar is very hard, but you can do it with constant practice. Think about the advice you would give anyone trying to quit something addictive (cigarettes, alcohol, drugs..), there are going to be times when it is tough, but it gets easier the more you work at it. Sugar in the same. I usually suggest to people to think about it like learning to ride a bike: one fall doesn’t mean you failed, it means you learned something.

      As far as the white chocolate powder, I agree with you about the sugar alternatives. There are two thoughts: the first is that straight cocoa is great for you, it is the sugar that isn’t so good – try using just cocoa. The other is try going without for a while and see how you do; many people are surprised when they give up something they think they cannot do without that it is easier than they thought to let it go.

      Best of luck!

  3. Tyler November 6, 2014 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    Dr. Scott,

    I am writing a paper in college about sugar and how products with added sugar should be given warning labels. I would love to send it to you if you are interested in reading it! thank you for your help :)


    • Dr. Scott November 9, 2014 at 7:41 am - Reply

      Sure! It would be great to see.


      Dr. Scott

  4. maxwood October 25, 2014 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    1. One device which has helped me: spend zero money on candy (buyer’s boycott) but when you are given some, taste only a small amount (chew it a long time) and add the rest to a BLENDER smoothie. This way the sugar doesn’t substitute for healthy veggies, you force yourself to eat the healthy veggies to get the sugar, and initially it may help make the veggies more attractive (flavoring assistance).

    2. Isn’t it true that the “Pleasure” with $igarettes is from a temporary rise in Blood Sugar levels (note phonetic similarity)?

    • Dr. Scott October 28, 2014 at 9:07 am - Reply

      Thanks for your comments. A buyer’s boycott is a good idea and, really, the best way to keep sugar out of your life. I think you are asking if cigarettes change blood sugar and they don’t; nicotine acts throughout your body and brain to create a sensation of pleasure and alertness (yes, sugar does work similar).

      Dr. Scott

  5. Joan March 4, 2014 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    Thank you for these informative articles Dr Scott, this is making my resolve to keep off sugar, stronger than ever, but it’s also quite frustrating because when I tell people, they look at me as if I have gone mad, and it makes me feel like shaking them to wake up to this danger. I also feel strongly that this is the catastrophe of the century and no one is listening or taking responsibility for the bad advise we have all listened too over the last 50 years, shocking

    • Dr. Scott March 4, 2014 at 1:32 pm - Reply


      Thank you for your comments! I do think people are beginning to see that sugar can be very harmful; some are just slower at accepting it.

      Best of luck with your continued good health!

      Dr. Scott

      • Alexummation March 22, 2015 at 11:40 am - Reply

        Thanks, Scott for showing us that diabetes can be harmful.

        Noting this for 400,000k deaths from it.

        By the way, I’m type 1.

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