By Vexen Crabtree 2014
|Smoking Rates (2014)1|
|Pos.||Higher is worse1|
|173||Bosnia & Herzegovina||2 233|
|168||S. Korea||2 073|
|Area||Smoking Rates (2014)|
Lower is better1
|Middle East...||1 218|
Cigarettes are the most lethal consumer product on the planet and is the biggest preventable course of disease in the world2. The fight for public health means limiting and reducing the business of the tobacco industry and as the governments of most developed countries make headway, the tobacco industry has resisted with misinformation, public-relations campaigns and fake customer-concern lobby groups, trying to make the government think that the citizens do not support its actions. With £30 billion pounds (UKP) profit per year2, the industry runs such massive and influential lobbies that most governments find it difficult to make any progress in curbing rates of smoking.
If you smoke, you are more likely to drink. If you smoke or drink, you are also more likely to do drugs. Smoking is statistically intertwined deeply with trash culture. Only 15% of men in the highest professional classes smoke, but 42% of unskilled workers do3. Smoking is higher amongst those who are already in trouble: single mothers smoke at 55%, most homeless do and practically 100% of drug addicts do3. Smoking during late pregnancy reduces the IQ of babies by an average of 6.2 points4 and causes increased antisocial behaviour. Aside from the financial cost to taxpayers and the health costs to individuals, indirect negative economic effects result from increased rates of disease and sick days lost from work.
The tables on the right show which countries have the worst (highest) smoking rates and which countries have the fewest smokers, and, the second table shows a breakdown of average national rates of smoking by continent. To find the rate for any particular country, use the "Country Reports" drop down menu at the top of the page.
“Smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics.”
Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations
“Smoking is the biggest preventable course of disease in the world6,7,8 and is a direct cause of many types of cancer9. Smoking risks chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma and heart problems, and its damage to your breathing makes smokers less likely to exercise10. It increases aging by damaging DNA; each year you smoke a pack per day, you age the equivalent of 2 years11. Half of all long-term smokers will die from a related disease12. Giving up smoking reduces your risk of Coronary Heart Disease by half within a year of stopping13. It reduces average life spans by 12 to 15 years14, killing more than 5m people a year14 (in 2008 - it's more now). Since anecdotal evidence began in the 17th century15, the dangerous health risks of smoking are attested to by more evidence than for any other cause of disease.
Smoking does not just effect those who chose to smoke. Being subject to smokers' fumes ('passive smoking') also causes harmful side-effects16 including cancer, heart disease, asthma and lung damage13,17. This has been particularly problematic for children and those who work in restaurants and public houses18. Mothers who smoke risk their own babies10,19,20 and cause them lower IQ21,22, ADHD22 and behavioural problems21.”
“Advice to stop smoking is often given by doctors to pregnant women from the onset of pregnancy because there are biological risks to the foetus when a mother smokes10. Smoking by mothers causes a range of disadvantages for the future lives of their baby; it is linked with lower IQ and ADHD22. Avoiding smoking, and avoiding passive smoking, both help mothers protect their unborn babies and gives them the best chance at a healthy birth19.”
“In 1991 in the UK 16% of 11-15 year-old children smoked, but by 2016 this had fallen to 3% (but still, that's far too many children)24; they are more likely to smoke if they live with others who do so25. There has also been improvement in how many mothers remain smokers whilst carrying a baby to term, falling to below 11% in 201625.”
The younger people start to smoke, the more they cost themselves and society. One scientist points out that the "vast majority" of smokers start doing so as children26. One of the key preventative measures according to a Public Health organisation in the UK is to encourage healthy behaviours in children, which in turns makes it more likely that as adults they also live healthily - "we need to focus much more on prevention and early intervention, helping people to help themselves and their communities to be as healthy as they can be and for as long as possible. [...] We all need to take responsibility for our own health and wellbeing, but for many it is more difficult than it should be. For example, healthy behaviours in childhood and the teenage years set patterns for later life yet we know that not all children have a realistic opportunity of a good start in life" (PHE 2013 27). Such effects are such a part of common sense that it is tempting to think that parents who smoke are engaging in a form of long-term child abuse. In other words: a prerequisite for responsible parenting is to give up smoking.
The effect of smoking takes place across all income classes. It affects the children of professionals as much as the children of the unemployed: Money cannot make up for the loss accrued from smoke (and passive smoking) during pregnancy. It so happens that smoking is also correlated with low IQ, hence, having parents who smoke causes a double whammy of issues.
There has long been a bone of contention between smokers, who take frequent breaks outside, and non-smokers, who are more inclined to feel guilty (however misguided) over such breaks. This small-scale conflict highlights a greater debate over human free will. For those who take frequent smoke breaks do so in addition to any standardized workplace breaks, to which most non- smokers tend to stick. The latter view the former's extra breaks as frivolous, whereas smokers view them as normal. The view of the militant anti-smoker is that smokers have chosen to smoke, and therefore are skiving work. The view of smokers is that they 'have' to smoke. It seems those who have chosen the less responsible lifestyle choice are being rewarded with extra time off, therefore encouraging ill-health.
“France followed a European trend by making it illegal to smoke in offices. [...] To the outrage of some, several companies have decided to clock out staff as they leave the building for a smoke, and deduct the time from working hours.”
The measures that some French companies have taken - clocking people's smoking time against their wages - has the potential to officially take into account the time-management practices of smokers and non-smokers. If computer -game addicts were often seen sneaking off to the rest room for a quick game, then, that time too should be deducted. Such methods can be taken too far, but, if in the case of smoking we can discourage a public health issue through time-monitoring, it is probably a good idea, and it will also appease activist non-smokers.
“Today only 15% of men in the highest professional classes smoke, but 42% of unskilled workers do. Despite punitive taxation - 20 cigarettes cost around £5.00, three-quarters of which is tax - 55% of single mothers on benefits smoke. The figure for homeless men is even higher; for hard drug users it is practically 100%. [...] The lower down they are on practically any pecking order - job prestige, income, education, background - the more likely are people to be fat and unfit, and to drink too much.”
The psychologists Davison & Neale pointed out in 1997 that smoking is more common amongst unskilled and manual workers, prevails among "less educated" individuals30, and is associated with poverty. Steven Jackson reported almost the same percentages as The Economist, in 1998:
“Approximately 15 per cent of professionals smoke in comparison to over 40 per cent of unskilled manual workers.”
"Britain's Population: Demographic Issues in Contemporary Society" by Stephen Jackson (1998)31
Smoking is intertwined deeply with "trash culture". If you smoke, you are more likely to drink. If you smoke or drink, you are also more likely to do drugs. Such was the conclusion of the 1999 publication from the Office for National Statistics entitled "Smoking, drinking and drug use among young teenagers in 1998". A key factor of trash culture is that it is self-promoting. Once trash habits become accepted, they spread themselves. This entire culture is itself a harmful disease.
Amongst young teenagers, "the likelihood of having ever used drugs is strongly related to smoking experience: 63% of regular smokers had used drugs, compared with only 1% of those who had never smoked". With drinking the statistics are also similar and cyclic: 44% of young teenagers who drink also get involved in drugs, compared with only 1% of children who don't drink. And importantly, in case it is doubted that all these factors propagate one another, "virtually no children who had never smoked or drunk had ever used drugs".
“It makes a great deal of money. The estimate for 2012 is that retail sales for the entire industry were almost three quarters of a trillion dollars. And then the manufacturer profit from that is going to be north of 50 billion dollars.”
Erik Bloomquist, Senior Analyst, Berenberg Bank2
On the ground, what does this look like? In the year 2000, around 6 trillion (6 000 000 000 000) cigarettes were sold2.
Tobacco companies have received bad publicity recently after a series of exposés, resulting from their manipulation of scientific studies into the ill-effects of smoking. Some studies were paid for by the companies to reach doctored conclusions33, and others were suppressed. Not only this, but they have resisted attempts to regulate advertising aimed at children, and have continued to use bad practices abroad even when they are outlawed or regulated at home. In other words, they have been evading the law, intentionally leading people into the habit, and failing to inform users of the risks of their product. The tobacco industry is largely successful - the World Health Organisation says that most users do not understand the risks.
James Reilly, Ireland's Minister for Health, was involved in a battle for better public health which saw proposals for laws to curb smoking. Such proposals are designed to be debated; but he received such a large 'mountain' of responses that it could have been impossible to deal with, if they were not prepared. Only a maximum of 3% of the responses came from concerned individuals; 97% were the result of a deceitful campaign by a consortium of tobacco companies, wherein they attempted to derail regulation by jamming up the system with negative responses. But this kind of organized campaign has been seen many times before, and so they were "wise to their ways" and found a way to deal with the subversion of the law. He calls the industry and its methods evil.
James Reilly recounts another method that tobacco companies used in Ireland. The industry prepared for legal battles against plain packaging by 'retaining' as many of the best legal Barristers as possible. Because Barristers cannot represent both sides in a legal dispute, the rich tobacco industry went ahead and purchased the services of as many Barristers as possible, in order to deny the government the skills they would need. But thankfully, many Western governments have learned from past battles, and in this case, the government managed to act earlier than Big Tobacco, and prevented them from doing so.34
Multinational firms frequently evade the law by moving production, staff and profits between countries, evading tax and legal requirements as they go. But the growing strength of political unions such as the EU help curb their behaviour with international co-ordination35.
“The numbers of smokers in China, India and other developing countries is continuing to grow, as addiction spreads faster than information. Hence the determination of almost everybody involved in global public health to escalate the war on smoking. Over 150 countries have already ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which requires countries to take a range of anti-smoking measures. Last July negotiators agreed on international norms for banning smoking in public places.”
Although in many Western countries, cigarette production has been controlled by laws that protect workers' rights and health and safety conditions, the response of the tobacco industry has been to move production to less well-protected regions of the world. Despite criticism from the United Nations, thousands of children continue to perform hazardous work on tobacco farms in Indonesia. They are exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, and other dangers, which can have lasting impacts on health and development; the government is content to commit to 'raising awareness' of the risk to children's health, rather than take any action37.
“Several industries have been caught out producing fake and heavily biased science reports, orchestrating so-called "grass-roots" movements whereby they cast doubt on medical science, producing endless reams of misleading public-relations material and manipulating news outlets with fake think-tanks. They have well-practised and efficient methods for manipulating the news and public opinion and the money and effort that goes into these channels of deception are great. They produce "manufactured doubt" using scientific-sounding organisations as fronts, to try and discredit the mountains of evidence that stand against them. They are expert at getting this 'fake news' on to broadcast media and in every success they cause harm, ill health and long-term problems for all.
The worst culprits in spreading mass-lies in this way are: (1) the tobacco and smoke industry38,39,40, (2) the fast-food and junk food industries41, (3) those who sell most nutritional supplements42 and (4) the petrol and oil industries43,44,38.The worst outlets for promulgating rubbish without checking sources are the sensationalist, downmarket and popularist news bodies.”
In the 1950s the smoking lobby created a range of innocent-sounding and scientific-sounding groups in order to discredit government information about the dangers of smoking. They produced scientific reports engineered by their own scientists, which serve to boost their own industries by deceiving the public. The disinformation campaign spanned many decades. The vested commercial interests of the smoking industry provide an incentive to manipulate the public's understanding of the risks in order to keep people smoking. They concocted invented studies, fabricated doubts on health science, creating fake consumer-concern groups and poured great quantities of cash into misleading marketing. A few senior executes eventually found themselves stood before USA's congress. Clive Bates, Public Health Consultant, states very bluntly:
“The chief executives of the world's major tobacco companies stood up in front of congress and [...] lied, knowing that they were lying [and] deliberate[ly] misled people.”
“... the tobacco industry previously poured huge sums into 'independent' research showing that the effects of smoking on health had been greatly exaggerated.”
“As a result of paperwork disclosed in US court cases, we now know that when the tobacco companies in the 1950s found themselves under pressure from the discovery of the link between smoking and cancer, they hired PR companies to create a network of pseudo-groups to massage public thinking on their behalf. Hill & Knowlton, who were then the biggest PR agency in America, duly created the Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Institute as apparently independent organisations to produce research to defend their sales. [...]
A second PR agency, Burson-Marsteller, created the National Smokers Alliance as an AstroTurf group, to hold public meetings and hassle politicians, changing the tobacco story from a threat to health to a threat to freedom.”
With determination and persistent, it is possible to fight against multinational tobacco companies, and most of the developed countries of Europe have done very well in doing so. The UK is a prime example:
“Smoking is the UK's biggest cause of preventable death and 100,000 people die from related diseases every year47. The health of the nation affects everyone in the long-run6 - although in 2016/17 tax on cigarettes earned the government £7.6 billion25, in 2010 statistics showed the total cost to the economy of smoking (including NHS costs) was £13.7 billion48. 474,000 hospital admissions every year in England are directly due to smoking25.
But things are moving in the right direction. Since the 1970s, the government has enacted a stream of laws to improve public health: strong restrictions on advertising cigarettes, enforced health warnings on packs, increased costs, banned sports sponsorships and banned smoking in public enclosed spaces.25,7,18. Each of those measures was fought through long legal and PR campaigns by the tobacco industry7,18. But it is working, and smoking rates in Great Britain have declined from 50% in 1974 to 16% in 2016, and the spectre of childhood smoking has declined to 3%.25,24”
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper.
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source. A newspaper.
BBC. The British Broadcasting Corporation.
(2014) Burning Desire: The Seduction of Smoking. A two-part television documentary first shown on 2014 May 29 featuring the veteran journalist and investigator, Peter Taylor. www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b045qf9q.
British Heart Foundation
(2012) Women and Heart Disease. Published by the British Heart Foundation, London, UK. There is no year of publication stated in the booklet, but its copyright notice states 2012. A leaflet.
Carroll, Robert Todd. (1945-2016). Taught philosophy at Sacramento City College from 1977 until retirement in 2007. Created The Skeptic's Dictionary in 1994.
(2011) Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed!. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Published by the James Randi Educational Foundation. An e-book.
(2006) "Multinational Corporations Versus Democracy: The Fight Between Commercialism and Nation States" (2006). Accessed 2019 Jan 13.
(2009) "The Worst of the Modern Mass Media" (2009). Accessed 2019 Jan 13.
(1998) Britain's Population: Demographic Issues in Contemporary Society. Published by Routledge.
(2017 Sep 14) Briefing Paper: Statistics on Smoking. UK Government House of Common briefing paper number CBP 7648.
Nutt, David. David Nutt was the UK's chairman of the Advisory Council of the Misuse of Drugs.
(2017) Drugs. Subtitled: "Without the Hot Air: Minimising the Harms of Legal and Illegal Drugs". Published by UIT. An e-book.
Public Health England (PHE)
(2013) Our priorities for 2013/14. Booklet published in 2013 April. PHE are the government body responsible for national health and wellbeing. PHE publication gateway number 2013007. www.gov.uk/phe.