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, and, despite efforts to reverse smoking trends, the problem only seems to be getting bigger each year. While smokers know full well that cigarettes are harmful, they will ignore every warning until something suddenly clicks and tells them that it's time to stop. These cold, hard facts may put the scale of the problem into perspective.

The Tobacco Industry

Around 6.5 trillion cigarettes are sold around the world each year, which translates to roughly 18 billion cigarettes per day. It is a lucrative industry and one that makes its fortunes largely off the backs of the poorest people in the world, both in terms of supply and demand.

Of the estimated one billion smokers in the world, 80% live in low- and middle-income countries. Of the estimated 33 million tobacco farm workers in the industry, a substantial proportion live in the poorest communities and regions.

In some places, even children are forced to work in the fields to help pay the family bills. This places them and the other farm workers at risk of green tobacco sickness, an illness caused by the absorption of nicotine through the skin from the handling of wet leaves.

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 today, it is still the fourth-largest producer in the world. This is despite the fact that smoking-related diseases cost the U.S. more than $300 billion per year.

China, India, and Brazil are today the three largest tobacco-producing countries. Not surprisingly, it is within many of these nations that smoking awareness is at its lowest. For example:

  • A 2009 survey in China showed that only 38% of smokers knew that smoking could cause heart disease, while only 27% knew that it could lead to a stroke.
  • Similarly, more than 25% of the population of Bangladesh, India, the Netherlands, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam were unaware of the association between smoking and cardiovascular diseases.
  • Meanwhile, 17% of smokers in New Zealand, 14% in France, and 13% in the United States were unaware of the cardiovascular risks of smoking despite the fact that heart disease—not lung cancer—is the number one killer of smokers.

Current Health Statistics

Smokers often assume that lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases are a "roll of the dice" beyond their control. But consider these facts:

  • Tobacco today kills around half of all smokers.
  • Globally, tobacco causes eight million deaths per year. That's one death every five seconds.
  • Of those eight million deaths, 600,000 are non-smokers who were exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • Smoking is the direct cause of one of every five deaths in the U.S. That translates to roughly 480,000 deaths annually, 1,300 smoking-related deaths per day, 54 deaths per hour, or almost one death per minute.
  • Every cigarette smoked cuts five to 11 minutes from a smoker's life. Over a lifetime, that can reduce life expectancy by as much as 12 years.
  • Around 25% of all heart disease deaths and 75% of lung disease deaths are directly attributed to smoking irrespective of any other cause.

Youth Smoking

Not all of the news is bad. It was in 1997 that smoking reached its peak among American youth, with 36.4% reporting that they had tried cigarettes. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that figure has since plummeted to just over 10%.

Despite these gains, the outlook for teens is far from rosy. Among other CDC findings:

  • Every day, 1,600 Americans under 18 light up their first cigarette.
  • Of these, 200 will go on to become full-time smokers.
  • Nearly nine out of every 10 smokers in the U.S. tried their first cigarette before the age of 18.
  • 4.3% of middle school students and 11.3% of high school students reported using e-cigarettes.
  • 2.2% of middle school students and 5.8% of high school students reported using chewing tobacco, a practice strongly linked to oral cancer.

The popularity of flavored tobacco is the next public health threat among teens and adolescents. In 2018, 67% of high school smokers and 49% of middle school smokers reported the use of flavored tobacco. Therefore, the FDA required e-cigarette companies to cease manufacturing and selling flavored vaping products (excluding menthol and tobacco) by the end of January 2020.

A Word From Verywell

Despite the downbeat statistics, most smokers in the U.S. understand the enormous dangers of smoking. In fact, according to the CDC, nearly 70% of American smokers want to quit, and around 55% have made at least one attempt to quit 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 will kick the habit.

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Article 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.
  1. World Health Organization. Tobacco. Updated May 27, 2020.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking & Tobacco Use: Fast Facts. Updated May 21, 2020.

  3. Yang J, Hammond D, Driezen P, Fong GT, Jiang Y. Health knowledge and perception of risks among Chinese smokers and non-smokers: findings from the Wave 1 ITC China Survey. Tob Control. 2010;19 Suppl 2:i18-23. doi:10.1136/tc.2009.029710

  4. International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project. Cardiovascular harms from tobacco use and secondhand smoke: Global gaps in awareness and implications for action. 2012.

  5. Wynne O, Bonevski B. Developments in the Research Base on Reducing Exposure to Second-Hand Smoke. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(9):1873. doi:10.3390/ijerph15091873

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cigarette smoking among U.S. high school students at an all-time low, but e-cigarette use a concern. Updated June 9, 2016.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth and Tobacco Use. Updated July 7, 2020.

  8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA finalizes enforcement policy on unauthorized flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes that appeal to children, including fruit and mint. Updated January 2, 2020.

  9. 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

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