Number of smokers rises despite decline in smoking rates

09 January, 2014

Globally, smoking prevalence — the percentage of the population that smokes every day — has decreased, but the number of cigarette smokers worldwide has increased due to population growth, according to new research.

The research was conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

University of Melbourne Laureate Professor, Alan Lopez, contributed data collection and analysis to the new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in a special issue devoted to tobacco.

The study "Smoking Prevalence and Cigarette Consumption in 187 countries, 1980-2012" concludes that overall, age-standardised smoking prevalence decreased by 42 per cent for women and 25 per cent for men between 1980 and 2012.

"Action on tobacco control is still needed on a global scale," Professor Lopez said.

"It is particularly urgent in countries where the number of smokers is increasing.

"Since we know that half of all smokers will eventually be killed by tobacco, greater numbers of smokers will mean a massive increase in premature deaths in our lifetime."

In Australia, smoking prevalence has decreased markedly since 1980. Smoking prevalence amongst males almost halving, from 34.3 per cent in 1980, to 18.3 per cent in 2012. Similarly, smoking prevalence among women decreased from 27.3 per cent in 1989 to 15.4 per cent.

Despite huge population growth in Australia, the number of smokers has decreased, from 3.35 million (across both men and women) in 1980, to 2.96 million in 2012. The number of cigarettes smoked annually in Australia decreased from 29,980.8 million to 21,679.0 million during the same time period.

Four countries — Canada, Iceland, Mexico and Norway — have reduced smoking by more than half in both men and women since 1980.

But substantial population growth between 1980 and 2012 contributed to a 41 per cent increase in the number of male daily smokers and a 7 per cent increase for females. In 2012, smoking prevalence among men was higher than for women in all countries except Sweden.

Fifty years ago, the first US Surgeon General’s report on the health impact of smoking led to groundbreaking research on tobacco and investments by governments and non-profit agencies to reduce tobacco prevalence and cigarette consumption. In 2003, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) was adopted by the World Health Assembly and has since been ratified by 177 countries. 

Despite this, the greatest health risks are likely to occur in countries where smoking is pervasive and where smokers consume a large quantity of cigarettes.

These countries include China, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Korea, the Philippines, Uruguay, Switzerland, and several countries in Eastern Europe. The number of cigarettes smoked daily has grown to more than 6 trillion. In 75 countries, smokers consumed an average of more than 20 cigarettes per day in 2012.