World

Smoking Rates Around the World -- How Do Americans Compare?

by Nicole Naurath and Jeffrey M. Jones

The low smoking rate in the United States is similar to the worldwide median, but the prevalence of smoking varies greatly around the world

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup first asked Americans about their smoking habits more than 60 years ago, and recent Gallup polling finds Americans reporting among the lowest smoking rates ever measured (24%). The percentage of Americans saying they have smoked cigarettes in the past week did not drop to approximately one-quarter of the population until the mid-1990s. Gallup has asked respondents in more than 90 countries around the globe a similar question regarding their smoking habits, and the data indicate a median percentage of 22%. This result is statistically similar to the U.S. rate, but in some individual countries this figure ranges from a fraction of the U.S. responses to more than 40%.

In asking populations around the world about their smoking habits, Gallup phrased the question in a manner that reflects the work of Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and others. This approach seeks to record a subject's feelings and experiences in as close to a real-time setting as possible. In the survey context, respondents are asked about emotions or behaviors (such as smoking) that they experienced within the past 24 hours.

Although U.S. respondents were asked about cigarette smoking within the past week, nearly all of those who say they smoked in that time also indicate they smoke at least one cigarette per day. As a result, the percentages of weekly and daily smokers in the United States are usually roughly equivalent (at most, the daily smoking rate is one percentage point lower than the weekly smoking rate). Thus, the weekly smoking figures from the United States can be considered comparable to the daily smoking rates from other countries around the world.

Gallup found that several countries around the world post smoking rates that are near 40% -- similar to the prevalence measured in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. Forty percent of Cubans smoke, as do 37% of Kuwaitis, Chileans, Russians, Belarusians, and Bangladeshis.

Highest Incidence of Smoking, by Country
Did you smoke yesterday, or not?

  Country

% Yes, Smoked

GDP (PPP) Per Capita

GDP Rank

Cuba

40

4,000

146

Kuwait

37

23,100

49

Chile

37

12,700

78

Russia

37

12,200

82

Belarus

37

8,100

106

Bangladesh

37

2,300

174

Estonia

36

20,300

55

Latvia

36

16,000

64

Azerbaijan

36

7,500

113

Indonesia

36

3,900

148

Kazakhstan

35

9,400

90

Lithuania

34

15,300

66

Argentina

33

15,200

67

China

33

7,700

109

Ukraine

32

7,800

108

Vietnam

32

3,100

160

Cyprus

31

23,000

50

Slovakia

31

18,200

61

Mauritania

31

2,600

169

South Africa

30

13,300

76

Burundi

30

700

224

Interestingly, the countries with the highest rates of smoking among respondents age 18 and older span the globe, and have annual GDPs (at Purchasing Power Parity) that range from $700 per capita to $23,100. In other words, there appears to be no consistent relationship between the prevalence of smoking in a country and its location or its residents' relative wealth.

At the other end of the spectrum, only 6% of Nigerians, 8% of Salvadorans, and 8% of Ghanaians smoke.

Lowest Incidence of Smoking, by Country
Did you smoke yesterday, or not?

Country

% Yes, Smoked

GDP (PPP) Per Capita

GDP Rank

Nigeria

6

$1,500

198

El Salvador

8

$4,900

133

Ghana

8

$2,700

167

Afghanistan

9

$800

221

Ethiopia

9

$1,000

211

Peru

10

$6,600

119

Nicaragua

10

$3,100

159

Togo

10

$1,700

191

Sri Lanka

11

$4,700

138

Ecuador

11

$4,500

141

Niger

11

$1,000

215

Panama

12

$8,200

104

Cameroon

12

$2,400

172

Dominican Republic

12

$8,400

102

Guatemala

12

$5,000

130

Bolivia

13

$3,100

157

Nepal

14

$1,500

197

Honduras

14

$3,100

158

Tajikistan

14

$1,300

205

Mali

14

$1,300

203

Madagascar

14

$900

218

Benin

14

$1,100

209

Uganda

15

$1,900

186

Paraguay

15

$4,800

136

Hong Kong

15

$37,300

14

Malawi

15

$600

229

Colombia

15

$8,600

99

Some patterns emerge among the group of countries with the lowest reported rates of smoking, though this is still a diverse group. These countries are mostly found in Africa and Latin America, and their median per-capita GDP (PPP) is much lower than the median among the countries with the highest smoking rates ($2,700, compared with $9,400). Twenty-two out of the 27 countries in which no more than 15% of respondents report smoking have annual per-capita GDPs (PPP) of $5,000 or less. In contrast, only 6 out of the 21 countries where at least 30% of the population report smoking have per-capita GDPs (PPP) of $5,000 or less.

When Gallup examines results for the worldwide smoking question at the regional level, the lowest median scores are found in South America and Mexico (15%), West Africa (14%), Central America (12%), and South Asia (12%). It should be noted thus far that the smoking behavior question has not been asked in all countries polled by Gallup; as a result, the regional median scores may be altered as additional data are collected.

Interestingly, two of the regions with the lowest median scores are home to individual countries with some of the highest rates -- greater than 30% of the population. In South America, Argentina (33%) and Chile (37%) have smoking rates of one-third the population or greater, yet in most of the other countries in this region the prevalence is 15% or lower. The median figure for the countries polled in South Asia is also very low (12%), although Bangladesh (37%) has one of the highest adult smoking rates in the world.

The regions with the highest median rates of smoking are the former Soviet countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) (29%), Central Europe (29%), and the European Union (28%). Although Gallup has not asked this question in many European countries, those countries that have been surveyed report data that are higher than is typical of many other regions around the world.

Incidence of Smoking, by Global Region
Did you smoke yesterday, or not?

Region

% Yes, Smoked

CIS

29

Central Europe

29

European Union

28

Northern Europe

26

North Africa/Middle East

25

South Europe

25

South Africa

23

Southeast Asia

23

East Asia

23

Developed Asia

22

Caribbean

19

East Africa

18

South America

15

West Africa

14

Central America

12

South Asia

12

Survey Methods

Results for the poll reporting U.S. smoking behaviors¬†are based on telephone interviews with 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 3-5, 2007. For results based on the total sample of U.S. adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ¬Ī3 percentage points.

Results from the Gallup World Poll are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted throughout 2006. Randomly selected sample sizes typically number 1,000 residents, aged 15 and older, in the 91 countries polled. For results based on samples of this size, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ¬Ī3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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