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Our World in Smoke

A fascinating map of global smoking rates yields some surprising information.

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Eastern Europe is in the red. Photo via

By Bryan Le

10/19/12

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The Wall Street Journal has put together a fascinating map of worldwide smoking rates, displaying how many cigarettes are consumed per person per year in each nation. Eastern Europe lights up like a Christmas tree: leading the world's cigarette pack is Serbia, where people cough their way through an astonishing 2,861 smokes each per year—that's about eight for every citizen every day. The Russians aren't far behind, in fourth place with 2,786 cigarettes each annually—at the cost of an estimated 400,000 lives and $48.1 billion per year. But Romania bucks the regional trend, partly thanks to some rugged laws that ban smoking in all public areas; fines of 25% of violators' incomes have been seriously proposed there.

Our planet's biggest nicotine fiends outside of Eastern Europe are the South Koreans, the Kazakhs and the Japanese, in that order; the average South Korean puffs 1,958 cigarettes per year. Despite the immense total volume of smoking in China—a world-beating 50,000 cigs a second, or 3.73 billion a day—its per capita rate is a little lower, at 1,711. 

Some of the world's poorer nations are better off when it comes to smoking rates. People in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa smoke less than anyone else: Indians consume 92 cigarettes per year on average, and Ethiopians a mere 46. “If Americans smoked like that,” notes the WSJ, “Cigarette companies would collapse overnight.” Of course, any loss to the US economy would be offset by drastically reduced medical bills: smoking-related health issues currently cost the States $92 billion a year. So how much do Americans smoke? Fortunately for us, this is one contest we're a long way from winning: we rank 34th in the world, at about one thousand cigarettes per person per year—roughly on a par with the Israelis, the Australians and the Irish.

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