Smoking Statistics From Around the World

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As of Dec. 20, 2019, the new legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.

Tobacco use has reached epidemic proportions worldwide. Despite efforts to reverse smoking trends, many people continue to smoke. Hopefully, learning more about the statistics of smoking (including how many people are diagnosed with smoking-related illnesses), will encourage more people to quit smoking.

A Look at the Tobacco Industry

It's estimated that there are 1.3 billion people who smoke in the world, and 80% of them live in low- and middle-income countries.

Nicotine addiction is so powerful that some people spend money on cigarettes instead of other necessities such as food and shelter—putting themselves and their households at risk. In some countries, children are forced to work in tobacco fields to help pay the family bills.

Tobacco farmworkers are at risk of green tobacco sickness, a type of nicotine poisoning caused by the absorption of nicotine through the skin from the handling of wet tobacco leaves.

Tobacco Industry Abroad

China, India, and Brazil are the three largest tobacco-producing countries today.

  • One study found that the biggest obstacle to quitting smoking among Chinese men was the belief that smoking is "socially acceptable." Indeed, many people find social situations can be a huge trigger for smoking cigarettes.
  • Another study that focused on people who smoke in India found that certain factors—like having no formal education, being unemployed or receiving low income, and/or using multiple types of tobacco—made it less likely a person would quit smoking.
  • One study examining smoking in Brazil found that smoking declined across the country in recent years, except among people ages 18 to 24. Smoking during adolescence makes it more likely a person will continue to smoke as an adult.

Tobacco Industry in the United States

While the United States has significantly decreased its share of tobacco farming—from over 180,000 farms in the 1980s to just over 10,000—it is still the fourth-largest tobacco producer in the world.

Smoking-related diseases cost the United States more than $300 billion per year. This cost includes medical care for adults who smoke as well as lost productivity from smoking-related deaths.

Research indicates that people in the United States underestimate the risks of smoking, too. While many people understand there are health risks associated with smoking, they underestimate the "relative risk." In other words, they don't realize how much greater the risk is of getting lung cancer if you smoke compared with the risk if you don't smoke.

Current Health Statistics

Smoking increases your chances of developing many types of illnesses, and tobacco is a cause of death for millions of people each year. Below are listed some current health statistics related to smoking.

  • It is estimated that tobacco kills 7 million people every year (6 million people die from direct exposure and 1 million die from secondhand smoke).
  • Smoking is the direct cause of one of every five deaths in the United States. That translates to roughly 480,000 deaths annually or 1,300 smoking-related deaths per day.
  • The risk of death from respiratory and heart disease is estimated to be two to three times higher for people who smoke compared to people who don't smoke. The risk is five times higher for people who smoke heavily.
  • Smoking cigarettes is estimated to cause 20% of all cancer cases and 30% of all deaths from cancer in the United States. Smoking is also believed to cause 80% of lung cancer cases and 80% of deaths from lung cancer in the United States.
  • Smoking causes about 25% of deaths from cardiovascular disease in the United States.

About 80% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) cases in the United States are a result of smoking.

Youth Smoking

Smoking continues to be a health concern for young people as well. The following are statistics on tobacco use among adolescents in the United States.

  • Every day, 2,000 Americans under 18 years old light up their first cigarette.
  • Every day, 300 Americans under 18 years old begin smoking cigarettes daily.
  • It's estimated that 24% of high schoolers and 7% of middle schoolers smoke cigarettes.
  • About 80% of young people who smoke e-cigarettes use products that are flavored (such as fruit, mint, or candy flavors).

Secondhand smoke puts many children at risk in the United States, too.

  • Every year, more than 400,000 babies are exposed to the toxins in cigarettes before birth as a result of their parent smoking while pregnant.
  • Nearly half of all children between the ages of 3 and 18 are exposed to secondhand smoke, putting them at higher risk of ear infections, respiratory infections, and asthma attacks.

Why Smoking Statistics Matter

Presenting clear and factual information on the dangers of tobacco use can inspire people to quit smoking and even prevent some people from ever smoking at all.

One study found that participants who smoked had less knowledge about the risks of smoking compared to participants who didn't smoke.

An increase in public awareness is considered one of the most effective ways for motivating people to quit smoking, and by extension, combatting high numbers of smoking-related illnesses and death worldwide.

Examples of public awareness are mass media campaigns and putting images of the damaging effects of smoking on cigarette packages.

Many of the frameworks for preventing tobacco use have been implemented in the United States. For instance, tobacco sales are federally prohibited to anyone under 21 years of age, and many state and local laws prohibit smoking indoors.

Other countries have similar policies as the United States, including banning tobacco advertising on television and increasing taxation on tobacco products.

Quitting Smoking

According to the CDC, nearly 70% of Americans who smoke want to quit, and around 55% have made at least one attempt to quit smoking in the past year.

The challenge, of course, is that it may take up to 30 attempts before a person is able to stop. It can be an arduous process, but one that can ultimately improve your health no matter how many years you have smoked. It is never too late to quit. Take it one step at a time. With support, patience, and dedication, you can be successful.

A Word From Verywell

Seeing the health statistics of smoking can be startling. But it's important to try to use this knowledge to your advantage. If you smoke, educating yourself on the health risks can be a helpful first step to quitting. Learn as much as you can about the dangers of tobacco use to help motivate you to quit.

17 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. National Institutes of Health. Social smoking.

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  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking & tobacco use: Fast facts.

  8. Stanford University. Many Americans still underestimate the risks of smoking, Stanford scholars say.

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  10. American Cancer Society. Health risks of smoking tobacco.

  11. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Health effects of tobacco use.

  12. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Get the latest facts on teen tobacco use.

  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking and youth.

  14. Ahluwalia IB, Smith T, Arrazola RA, et al. Current tobacco smoking, quit attempts, and knowledge about smoking risks among persons aged ≥15 years — Global adult tobacco survey, 28 countries, 2008–2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018;67:1072–1076. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6738a7

  15. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Tobacco 21.

  16. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STATE System Smokefree Indoor Air fact sheet.

  17. Chaiton M, Diemert L, Cohen JE, et al. Estimating the number of quit attempts it takes to quit smoking successfully in a longitudinal cohort of smokersBMJ Open. 2016;6(6):e011045. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-011045

Additional Reading

By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.