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Tobacco use was the biggest underlying cause of death in the United States in 1990, according to a research report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, published Nov. 10.

Researchers reported that smoking and other tobacco use led to 400,000 deaths in 1990 - more than all deaths caused by drugs, guns, sexual disease and automobile accidents combined.According to the study, tobacco use contributed to 19 percent of all deaths by way of such causes as cancer, heart disease, stroke, low birth weight and burns.

Led by Dr. J. Michael McGinnis of the U.S. Public Health Service, the researchers examined government reports, vital statistics and medical articles, looking beyond the illnesses listed as the causes of death to find out why people may have gotten sick.

Other causes of death in 1990 included poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, which lead to 300,000 deaths, and alcohol, which was responsibile for 100,000 deaths.

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