Smoking prevalence remains high worldwide

Researchers found that the number of people with a pack-a-day habit had “increased significantly.”

LOS ANGELES TIMESJanuary 9, 2014 

Despite a steep drop in the number of smokers in the United States over the last three decades, researchers say that cigarettes remain a growth industry for the rest of the world because of expanding population.

Even though the global smoking rate has declined since 1980 by roughly 25 percent for men and 42 percent for women, the total number of smokers has grown from 721 million to 967 million, according to a package of studies published online Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The total number of cigarettes consumed annually has risen from 4.96 trillion to 6.25 trillion.

“The number of smokers has increased steadily worldwide, and there are preliminary indications that global prevalence among men increased in recent years,” wrote lead study author Marie Ng, a world health statistician at the University of Washington, and her colleagues.

The studies in JAMA were published to mark the 50th anniversary of the U.S. surgeon general’s first report on smoking, a landmark document that first laid out the health dangers of the habit.

The studies are a reminder that not everyone understands the health risks of tobacco, experts said. While recent studies suggest that annual tobacco-related deaths are close to half a million in the U.S., that figure is more than 5 million worldwide.

“Smoking is still a big deal,” said Dr. Hal Strelnick, a professor of family and social medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York who was not involved in the study. “Smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the U.S., and it’s going to become that worldwide.”

Study authors noted that global smoking rates began falling rapidly in 1996. In 2006, the rate continued to fall but not nearly as fast.

“This deceleration in the global trend was in part due to increases in the number of smokers since 2006 in several large countries including Bangladesh, China, Indonesia and Russia,” authors wrote.

Currently, the global smoking rate is 31 percent for men and 6 percent for women. Study authors found no discernible changes in the global average number of cigarettes smoked per day, which remained about 18.

In the United States, the smoking rate among adults is now 18 percent. In 1964, the adult smoking rate was 43 percent — the nation’s highest rate ever recorded.

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