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Burning Charcoal: An Indigenous Method of Committing Suicide in Hong Kong.
Background: Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning by burning charcoal has become one of the most common ways of committing suicide in Hong Kong since late 1998. The evolution of the phenomenon was explored in the current study.
Method: Information about completed suicides between January 1996 and December 1999 was obtained from the Hong Kong death registry and hospital authority, and information about ambient temperature and humidity was obtained from the Hong Kong Observatory. News on completed suicides by burning charcoal was collected by computer search using the data bank of 6 major Hong Kong newspapers. The data were analyzed.
Results: CO poisoning by burning charcoal rose from 0% of all Hong Kong suicides in 1996 and 1997 to 1.7% in 1998 and 10.1% in 1999. The monthly incidence rate bore a reciprocal relationship with the ambient temperature. Suicidal pacts were overrepresented, and past history of mental illness was uncommon. Both demographic and clinical features of suicides by burning charcoal resembled those of suicides by domestic gas poisoning. The overall suicide rate remained unchanged in the above period.
Conclusion: Suicide by burning charcoal is a new variant of domestic gas poisoning. A host of biopsychosocial and ethnological factors are responsible for the birth and indigenization of the method.