ATLANTA, Georgia — Globally, we are smoking more than ever.
Fifty years after the Surgeon General amped up anti-smoking advertising, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that stop-smoking campaigns have not yet overcome population growth.
Smoking Prevalence and Cigarette Consumption in 187 Countries, 1980-2012 synthesized a smorgasbord of national studies over a thirty-year span to uncover trends in smoking prevalence and preferences worldwide.
The big picture is promising: 42% fewer women and 25% fewer men lit up in 2012 than in 1980. A few standout countries halved the rate of increase in citizen smokers: Mexico, Norway, Canada and Iceland.
Unfortunately, legislative and public relations interventions have not yet succeeded in lowering overall prevalence given substantial population growth. The number of female smokers grew 7% over the JAMA study period, while the number of male smokers increased by a whopping 41%.
Men, it seems, have a more difficult time extinguishing their cigarettes than women; over half of men in some nations, including Russia, Indonesia and Armenia, smoke at least one cigarette per day.
The benchmark for excessive smoking among females was 25%, as in France, Chile and Austria (Greece boasts one of the highest percentages globally, where over 30% of females smoke).
African countries, on the whole, are home to the fewest smokers across both genders.
Dr. Christopher Murray, University of Washington professor of global health, recently remarked that additional legislative intervention and research might be necessary to curb excessive tobacco advertising, modify packaging and identify underlying causes of continued consumption. Murray urges, “[w]here we see stagnation, we need to find out what’s going wrong.”
If smoking progress were laid out on a timeline, the past decade would represent the slowest growth phase since 1980. In the United States, for example, the percentage of adult smokers declined by roughly 8.5% between 1980 and 1996, 5% between 1996 and 2006, and a by a mere 1.8% since 2006.
The domestic slide reflects a global slowing of progress caused primarily by an uptick in new smokers in large nations such as China and Russia. Russia (notorious for absurdly cheap – $1.81 USD – packs of cigarettes) has been forced to take a hard look at this unhealthy behavior and enact new public policy changes to curb a trend that claimed 400,000 lives in 2012.
Vladimir Putin has imposed a smoking ban for 2014 that prohibits smoking in some public places, including workplaces, train stations and airports. The controversial new legislation will amp up incrementally in June, when smoking in restaurants and shopping centers will be verboten and a minimum price will go into effect.
A number of individuals and corporations (including British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco and Philip Morris) oppose the ban, which may pack a punch to the $21.4 billion industry. Outspoken Russian actor Mikhail Boyarsky, for example, told a Russian newspaper that “[Russia] shouldn’t look at other countries… forbidden fruit is sweet.”
Overcoming the intangible “cool” factor defining smoking’s allure must take place in spite of, rather than because of, efforts of some large international corporations. Hopefully, with cooperation and a clear strategy, governments will enforce unpopular restrictions to ensure that the next thirty years will define an unprecedented era of success in slashing smoking worldwide.
– Casey Ernstes