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The World Going Up in Smoke

Despite its well-documented health risks, why does tobacco still remain so popular?

March 24, 2002

Despite its well-documented health risks, why does tobacco still remain so popular?

Rodrigo de Jerez, a late fifteenth century Spanish explorer, was probably the first European smoker. But the smoke coming out of his mouth and nose caused the Spanish Inquisition to lock him up for seven years. Some 500 years later, smoking is still just as controversial — this time because of health risks. Our new Globalist Factsheet explores why tobacco is still such a contentious issue.

How many people smoke worldwide?

There are presently over one billion smokers worldwide, four-fifths (or 80%) of them in developing countries — and over a third in China alone.


How did U.S. smoking habits develop over the years?

In the United States, the number of cigarettes smoked per capita has been falling for two decades — dropping from 2,810 in 1980 to 1,633 in 1999. That is a decline of 42%.

(Worldwatch Institute)

What about the global trend?

Worldwide usage has dropped from a historical high of 1,027 cigarettes smoked per capita in 1990 to 915 in 1999 — a fall of only 11%. But that is still almost 40% below the current U.S. consumption. Still, given most developing countries’ low median age, individual tobacco consumption there would presumably be higher than in the United States.

(Worldwatch Institute)

What makes tobacco ‘big business’ for U.S. lawyers?

In the 1998 Texas tobacco suit, private lawyers spent at most 25,000 hours on the case, which never went to trial. However, they received 15% of the final $15.3 billion settlement — valuing their time at $92,000 an hour.

(Washington Post)

Will the tobacco industry face a severe financial crisis as a result?

U.S. smokers spend $50 billion a year purchasing cigarettes, thus helping companies cover the costs of the tobacco settlement.


How much is a pack of cigarrettes in the United States?

As of 2003, the average price of a pack of cigarettes in the United States is $3.85 — including federal and state taxes. Smokers in New York pay the most — $7.50 per pack — while North Carolinians pay about $3.15.

(Washington Post)

What else can be done with the $50 billion Americans spend annually on cigarettes?

To provide all developing countries with basic health and education, as well as water, sanitation and nutrition for one year would cost less than $50 billion.

(Congress of South African Trade Unions)

What is the picture in Europe?

As of 2000, about one-third of the EU’s 100 million citizens are regular smokers, paying on average between $4 and $6 a pack.

(Washington Post)

What other price did Europeans pay for their indulgence?

In 1999, nearly 500,000 people in the European Union died from smoking-related diseases — more than Luxembourg’s entire population.

(Washington Post)

How did the EU authorities react?

Under new regulations in effect since September 2002, all cigarette packages sold in the EU must carry explicit health warnings, bearing the message in the local language: “Smoking kills” or “Smoking seriously harms you and others around you.” The slogans must cover at least 30% of the front of the pack and 40% of the back.

(Washington Post)

How pervasive will smoking-related diseases become globally?

By 2020, tobacco is expected to become the biggest killer in most developing countries — causing more deaths than AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, automobile crashes, homicides and suicides combined.

(U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Where will most ‘casualties’ occur?

By 2025, about 70% of all smoking-related deaths will be in developing countries, assuming that smoking rates in developing countries continue to grow at the current pace.

(World Health Organization)

How big is the Chinese market?

China is the largest tobacco market in the world. The 350 million smokers in China smoke an estimated 38% of the world’s cigarettes.

(Washington Post)

How does the Chinese government benefit from the smoking habits of its people?

In 2000, Chinese tobacco companies paid more than $12.8 billion in taxes — more than any other industry in the country.

(Washington Post)

What makes the fight against smoking particularly difficult in developing countries?

As of 2001, TV tobacco ads are still allowed in many Asian and Latin American countries.

(Wall Street Journal)