Global smoking rates hit lowest numbers ever

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Recent reports have shown that the number of adult smokers in the United Kingdom have started dwindling down, with the most recent report showing the numbers have hit an all time low. And no it’s no coincidence that the number of adult users of e-cigarettes has reached an all time high, with the total number not being far off from matching the amount of smokers.

But what hasn’t really been discussed is the volume of adult smokers and vapers globally but recently, a report has been released that documents smoking behaviours amongst adults across the globe and that is what we are going to look at in this article. Let’s find out more!

The Tobacco Atlas Report 2022

Now in its 7th edition, the Tobacco Atlas Report is released every year which looks at the smoking behaviours and usage of cigarettes and tobacco by adults across the world. They also look at various different variables related to smoking around the world like tax rates on tobacco as well as e-cigarette usage recently due to the popularity of them increasing amongst people worldwide.

In this year’s report, the 7th edition, it was revealed that global smoking prevalence has fallen for the first time in the time that the reports have been being conducted, which is great news! However, it is still a huge driving factor in premature deaths across the world, with over 1.3 billion adults smoking globally.

It’s estimated that at least 5 trillion cigarettes are consumed globally every year, and not just by adults, children as young as 13 are frequent smokers in some countries which is absurd when you think about it! With this many smokers globally, it’s estimated that smoking causes over 8 million deaths a year, most of which are premature as previously mentioned, and it’s causing upwards of over $2 TRILLION in economic damages, which the large majority is made up of hospital treatments for people who have contracted serious diseases due to smoking. Most of the deaths were attributable to smoking, but 1.3 million of them were caused by passive smoking, the act of inhaling smoke from a cigarette from others rather than directly consuming it yourself. Well over half of these deaths occurred in densely populated countries, which I’m going to cover a little bit further in this article.

An interesting statistic that they went over is the volume of underage smokers being the highest it’s ever been around the world. Tobacco uses by youths aged 13-15 (both boys and girls) has risen dramatically in over half of the countries that were surveyed, with it estimated over 50 million cigarettes are smoked each year within this age demographic.  Interestingly, smoking prevalence in countries like Haiti and Mauritius by 13–15-year-olds is actually higher than the smoking prevalence of adult women. The report writer goes on to say that with this sudden flip in numbers, the volume of female smokers may not be significantly lower than the number of male smokers in the not-so-distant future.

The report highlights what tobacco companies managed to do during the Covid-19 Pandemic which people were all distracted by, you and I included I’d imagine! Whilst everyone’s focus was on other areas of the world, the tobacco industry began growing their own market shares, and this was done in a way of attracting new customers during times of hardship and worry which saw smoking rates increase during the year of the pandemic which is no coincidence.

Further key findings within the report

The report then moved on to discuss some further key findings that they had uncovered whilst compiling this report, and basically highlighted some problems that have been ongoing for a while, but they are still worth highlighting

Targeted advertising towards ethnic groups in America by the Tobacco industry

Over the last century since cigarettes first came onto the market, there has been proof that tobacco companies were using intensive advertising campaigns deliberately targeting African American communities, especially in America. The way they did this really came to life in the 1960’s, with tobacco companies absolutely flooding predominately black inner-city neighbourhoods with large billboards, posters at bus stops, posters in magazine and newspapers designed for the Black Culture and so on advertising Menthol cigarettes. The adverts even featured African American men and women promoting the brands and products. And if this wasn’t bad enough, tobacco companies used fully loaded vans to drive round these neighbourhoods and distribute free packets of cigarettes! Insane really when you think about it.  

Right up to the point of them being banned in the United States, 85% of Black males aged 12 years or older used menthol cigarettes compared to the 29% of white people who smoked them. But since April of this year, Menthol Cigarettes were banned for sale in the USA, and the same applies here in the United Kingdom. But even with Menthol cigarettes being banned, tobacco use amongst black people is responsible for up to 45,000 deaths a year.

With the introduction of this menthol cigarette ban, it is now widely believed that there could be as much as a 5% drop-in mortality rates between now and the year 2060 which is a huge step in the right direction. Some say this is too little to late by the heavy delay of banning menthol cigarettes, but I say it’s still a positive move regardless.

The rise in popularity of Non-Combustible products

The report then goes on to discuss the hot topic and highlight how much E-Cigarette usage has grown in the last 10 years. The report does heavily focus on the use of these being mainly by youths or young adults, and highlights the ongoing problems certain countries are facing with the volume of underage users seeming to be increasing day by day, month by month.

The report speaks about the youth vaping “epidemic” in the USA that happened between 2017-2020, with a high volume (27%) of high school students admitting to using a vaping device every day, specifically JUUL products, who came under heavy fire and criticism for their targeted advertising campaigns towards the younger generations. A lot of countries have regulations and restrictions on vaping products though, with it being completely illegal in some Asian countries such as Singapore. The countries where E-Cigarette usage is highest other than the UK and the USA is Latvia, Papau New Guinea and Mauritius (remember this is the same country where more young women smoke than older women I mentioned above) This list of countries is quite a broad stretch across the world!

Tobacco access becomes easier in Africa and so the usage increases drastically

People who live in African countries have previously struggled to obtain tobacco due to the high costs of it, therefore leaving them in a strong position of having a very low tobacco usage number among patrons. However, tobacco has now become more accessible and affordable in African countries, and this means tobacco companies are doing some vigorous and aggressive marketing campaigns to make this number rise even more.

It’s all a bit of a ripple effect in these countries, as the population of them are already so dense and ever increasing, added together with the volume of smokers starting to increase also, there will likely be a higher number of smoking related illnesses and deaths reported from these countries, which will in turn bolster the numbers globally. It’s crazy to think it can have such an affect like this but it really is likely to happen.

Tobacco Control Solutions going forward

The Tobacco Atlas Report finishes up with some suggestions for what could be implemented when it comes to Tobacco Control, and I do agree that most of these coming into effect would help decrease any problems that could be coming in the near future.

Taxes – Introducing higher tax rates on tobacco has been something mentioned by several different countries in a bid to reduce tobacco usage. Some countries want to introduce a levy tax as high as 50% on tobacco products, as well as taxing actual tobacco manufacturers for the harm they’re causing by introducing tobacco products to the countries. I think there will be a tax increase introduced, but when and where is hard to say.

Counter Marketing – Like we see here in the UK, start introducing graphic images of the effects that smoking has on the body, and what harm it can cause to others around you whether it be infants, children or elderly relatives. Plain packaging to be used on all tobacco-based products so that it doesn’t look appealing like what the coloured packaging does. As mentioned, all of this is in place in the UK and it must be working as the smoking prevalence in the UK is down to the lowest it’s ever been.

Stop mass media and targeted marketing campaigns – Stopping targeted advertising by companies who are aiming it at specific demographic groups, whether it’s gender, race, age or whatever. Social media companies can do more to police what is being shown on their platforms that is predominantly used by a younger audience by stopping companies advertising and flouting the rules against advertising and promoting their products on social media.

Conclusion

It’s been very interesting to read and write all of the above content of this blog looking at the facts and figures of global smoking rates. It’s really good to see the number has started to decrease as a whole, with the number being the lowest it has ever been.

This isn’t something we can get massively excited over as the problem of smoking rates increasing in countries in Africa is alarming, especially now tobacco has become more readily available and at an affordable price. But still, the fact the numbers are going down cannot be pushed aside based on this statistic alone.

I’ll be interested to see what happens over the next year, especially with the amount of e-cigarette users increasing and them being a lot more respected and accepted in different countries. I wonder if the number of adult smokers will decrease even more?

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