A couple of days ago my six-year-old son, who had been watching the movie Grease, remarked that people who smoked looked cool, ‘like they do in Grease‘.
That got me thinking. Grease is a very popular movie, grossing almost $400m on its 1978 release and watched many times on TV, video, DVD etc. since. So how many people have thought, like my son, that the people smoking in Grease were cool, and decided to take up smoking because of that? Then how many of those people have passed on the habit to their kids or contributed to the deaths of others through secondary smoke? Lots, obviously. I’ll generously estimate it at around 100 million.
But is that more than the country of Greece has killed? That’s hard to say, but before our friends in the southeastern corner of Europe decided to chillax for a few thousand years they had an empire that stretched from Egypt to the Hindu Kush. That must have required a fair amount of killing, but then there were only about 14 million people on the whole planet in those days, so perhaps conquering the Middle East and North Africa would not require as many deaths as it might first appear. Then Rome basically put a stop to the whole ‘Greek conquering’ thing by annexing the Greek peninsula in 146 BC, leaving them much less murderous. Although there were various crusades, a Graeco-Turkish war, a relatively small contribution to WW2 and a civil war just after, I don’t think they’ll have managed the 100m of Grease.
But then there’s grease, the substance in which many unhealthy things are cooked. In 2005 there were estimated to be 1.6 billion overweight people and 400 million obese people worldwide. in 2011 a massive 599, 413 Americans died of heart disease and although we can’t attribute all of those deaths to grease, not all grease-related deaths are from heart disease: cancer and diabetes, also massive killers, come into play as well, with all three methods combined leading to over half of all American deaths. Let’s be generous and say that grease contributes to 1/4 of all American deaths (over half a million a year), but that’s less than 1/20th of the world’s population, so even though many Americans have a particularly poor diet, we could safely say five million a year die worldwide from grease-related causes. Obesity rates have been increasing in recent years as a more sedentary lifestyle and a greater availability of poor-quality food have taken their toll, but it would take only 20 years of the current rate to cause Grease‘s 100m deaths. Given that grease has been a cooking ingredient for thousands of years, I’d have to say we have a winner: