Smoking Rates Around the World Are Astronomical

Here’s a shocking statistic: About 41 percent of men in developing countries smoke, and women are picking up the habit more and more at younger ages.

We may be used to strong anti-smoking laws and campaigns in the U.S., but in other parts of the world it’s a different story, as a study released this week in The Lancet says. In it, researchers analyzed information from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey given to about 250,000 adults in 14 low and middle-income countries, such as India, China, Poland, Thailand and Brazil. The paper is considered the largest tobacco use study to date.

Not only did the authors find that almost half of all men in these countries used tobacco products, but tobacco companies are apparently borrowing from Mad Men-era ad campaigns to get people to light up.

MORE: The CDC Says More Graphic Anti-Smoking Ads Are On the Way

Marketing campaigns aimed at adults portray smoking as glamorous, lead author Gary Giovino of the University at Buffalo said in a news release. Younger people are being targeted as well.

“China National Tobacco, for example, which is owned by the Chinese government, sponsors dozens of elementary schools, where students are subjected to pro-tobacco propaganda,” he added. “Some messages even equate tobacco use with academic success. I find that mind-boggling.”

While smoking rates are far lower among women in these countries—about 5 percent—the study found that women are increasingly picking up the habit as early as men are, around the age of 17.

MORE: Quitting Smoking Prolongs Life, Even for Older Smokers

Most of the tobacco products used are manufactured cigarettes, although chewing tobacco, snuff and waterpipes are also used.

Since there’s little encouragement to give up cigarettes, quit rates in most of these countries is low, researchers found, less than 20 percent. The rates were higher--about 35 percent--in countries such as America and the UK, plus Brazil and Uruguay.

Policies must change for people to give up smoking, Giovino said: “Governments around the world need to start giving economic and regulatory advantages to agricultural products that promote health instead of to products like tobacco that kill people.”

Some countries, such as Thailand, have been more aggressive recently in developing anti-smoking campaigns targeted to its citizens.

The authors of a related comment in the Lancet wrote, “In view of the health burden of tobacco use, the underinvestment in tobacco control is extraordinary.” They added that the main challenge in getting people to quit or never take up smoking is to find a way to translate disturbing discoveries such as these into health policy.

What should be done in countries with high smoking rates to get people to quit? Let us know in the comments.

Related Stories on TakePart:

• PG-13 Movies May Start Kids Smoking

• Teen Smoking is an 'Epidemic,' Surgeon General Says

• Did 10 Liters of Coca-Cola and 30 Cigarettes a Day Kill New Zealand Woman?

Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal, and has gotten in a boxing ring. Email Jeannine |