Smoking Rates Decline, But Not Enough

smoking rates

Worldwide, a smaller percentage of people are smoking today than they were about 30 years ago, according to a new study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Unfortunately, the growing population means that a larger number of people are smoking now than they were at that point, too.

As of 2012, roughly 31% of men across the world smoked, a figure that’s still alarmingly high, though not as dire as the 41% figure observed in 1980. Smoking rates are far lower among women, and managed to drop down to 6.2% from 10% over the same time period. However, due to increases in worldwide population, about 967 million people smoke today – a figure that stood at 721 million 34 years ago. In 2012 alone, people smoked over 6 trillion cigarettes.

Researchers Survey Smoking Rates Across 187 Countries

Researchers behind the study analyzed surveys conducted in 187 different countries in order to determine overall smoking rates. The biggest decline in smoking rates occurred from 1996 through 2006, with two additional pronounced declines later. The biggest declines were observed in Bangladesh, China and other countries with high population densities.

Smoking rates varied enormously from one country to the next. Only 5% of women in African countries, including Morocco, Eritrea and Cameroon, smoke. At the same time, over 25% of Austrian and Greek women smoke. In Armenia, Indonesia and Russia, over 50% of men consider themselves regular smokers.

The negative health effects of smoking were most easily observed in Korea, Japan, Italy, Ireland and China. In these countries, researchers observed not only a high percentage of smokers, but also a tendency for those smokers to consume a high number of cigarettes each day. The average smoker in about 75 of the surveyed countries reported smoking more than one pack per day.

Although smoking rates have declined overall since 1980, smoking rates among men have actually been on the rise among men since 2010.

Smoking Cessation Saves Lives

An additional study conducted recently suggested that the reduction in smoking rates among Americans has saved about 8 million people from a smoking-related death, and added about 20 years to the lifespans of those who would’ve smoked had rates stayed the same.

In addition to the U.S., countries including Sweden, Norway, Israel, Iceland and Canada were host to large declines in smoking rates as well.

Emmanuela Gakidou, one of the researchers behind the study, said that she’s pleased with the overall progress people have made in smoking cessation given how difficult it is to break the habit. She said that the progress could be considered rapid in light of this fact. Still, she admitted that we could do more to accelerate this progress and save more lives.

The Bottom Line

Smoking rates have declined steadily since 1980 overall, though there are a greater number of smokers today than ever before due to increases in population. Developed countries such as the U.S., Canada and Sweden saw major drops in smoking rates, while other countries like Indonesia have actually seen increases in smoking rates.

The full text of the study is available online in JAMA.

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