Published on Data Blog

The global state of smoking in 5 charts

Tobacco use kills 6 million people a year - that’s one person every six seconds. 

If left unchecked, this number could rise to 8 million a year by 2030. It’s why efforts such as plain packaging laws highlighted in my colleague Patricio's blog and this year’s World No Tobacco Day are so important.

I’ve taken a look at tobacco use estimates from the WHO’s Global Health Observatory below to get a better idea of where smokers are, how smoking rates have changed over time, and how they vary between men and women. You can find all the data and calculations behind the charts below here.

There are over a billion smokers worldwide  

As you’d expect, there are large numbers of smokers in the world’s most populous countries, but it’s in the smaller and relatively richer countries of Europe where you find some of the highest smoking rates.

Smoking rates increased in 27 countries between 2000 and 2015  

In a number of mostly low- and middle-income countries, smoking rates increased between 2000 and 2015. In Indonesia for example, the rate went up by almost 30% over the period, making the country home to more than 70 million smokers.

In the majority of countries, smoking rates are lower than 15 years ago  

But in most countries with available data, smoking rates have been falling and often substantially - from richer countries like Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Canada to poorer countries such as Bangladesh, Uganda and Nepal.

In almost every country, smoking rates are much higher among men than women  

The figures above have all been based on the average smoking rates for men and women. When you disaggregate the data, you see that in almost every country (Nauru and Sweden being the exceptions) smoking is more common among men than women, and often by a huge margin.

There are bigger changes in smoking trends among men than women  

I grew up in Japan in the early 90s and as child I could see how prevalent smoking was among men. I even remember my schoolteachers going out for cigarette breaks between classes and at lunchtime! It’s impressive to see the more than 30% decline in smoking among men there in the past 15 years and you see similar trends among men in many countries around the world.

But as noted in the second chart, there are 27 countries where smoking rates went up, and those trends are especially pronounced among men. As my colleague Bassam writes, changing attitudes towards smoking is a hard but important problem - healthy lives matter for individuals and economies.

So there you go, five charts about smoking. Did any trends or figures stand out for you?

Data used in this post:


Tariq Khokhar

Global Data Editor & Senior Data Scientist

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