Census of smokers reveals nearly one billion people use tobacco daily


This week, a new study from the University of Washington shows that despite widespread knowledge of the negative health effects of smoking, the number of smokers worldwide has increased by hundreds of millions in the last 30 years.

Fifty years ago, the U.S. Surgeon General released a landmark report on tobacco use and its effect on health. Today, that report is credited with educating the public about the dangers of inhaling tobacco smoke, and along with other anti-smoking measures, helping to save 8 million lives.

But as smoking has decreased in developed nations, it has expanded dramatically in the developing world.

A new study on global tobacco use, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed the prevalence of daily smoking by age, sex and the number of cigarettes each person smoked per day in 187 countries from 1980 to 2012. While the percentage of the world population who smokes has declined, the total number of smokers increased, from 721 million in 1980 to 967 million in 2012.

The report shows that the average smoker consumes about 18 cigarettes per day–a number that has stayed consistent since 1980. But the number of cigarettes smoked globally has gone from 4.96 trillion in 1980 to 6.25 trillion in 2012.

While the report found that the number of women who smoke has decreased over the last 30 years, the rate at which men smoke has increased since 2010. In some countries, including Armenia, Russia and Timor-Leste, more than 50 percent of men smoke.

Smoking in the U.S. has been cut in half. Only 16 percent of all Americans smoked in 2012, down from about 30 percent in 1980.

The most pressing health risks, the study warns, are in countries that have high prevalence and high consumption. These include China, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Korea, the Philippines, and several countries in Eastern Europe. The study calls for intensified tobacco control policies to counter the increasing number of smokers in these countries. More regulation may be on the way. China’s health ministry is reportedly planning a public smoking ban to go into effect by the end of this year.