Smokers Now Number Almost One Billion Worldwide

By Shawn Dwyer 01/09/14

Despite the increase in the number of tobacco users across the globe, the actual percentage of smokers has gone down.

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According to a new survey conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the number of smokers worldwide increased from 721 million in 1980 to 967 million in 2012. Though no direct cause was cited, researchers concluded that the population increase to over seven billion simply led to more people being available to pick up the habit.

But a cursory look at those numbers shows that the actual rate of smoking has declined. According to the numbers released by JAMA, about 16.2 percent of the world’s population were smokers in 1980, while in 2012 that rate dropped to roughly 13.8 percent. But the increase in the total number of tobacco users still caused concern among anti-smoking advocates. "As the overall number of smokers worldwide is still rising, this study shows how important it is for all countries to implement a range of tobacco control measures to curb the terrible toll of tobacco-related illness and death,” said Amanda Sandford of Action on Smoking and Health. "Low and middle-income countries in particular face an enormous challenge to fend off the powerful tobacco industry and stop smoking rates escalating."

Of course, not everyone was pleased with the new survey and the interpretations made by those fighting to stamp out smoking. Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest, said: "We support campaigns that educate people about the health risks of smoking. However, many tobacco control policies involve excessive restrictions on where people can smoke and the deliberate stigmatisation of millions of consumers worldwide." He went on to add: "Tobacco is a legal product and consumers should be treated with respect, not vilified or forced to quit through extreme and often illiberal regulation."

Meanwhile, the same survey estimated that a total of 6.25 trillion cigarettes were smoked in 2012, as compared to 4.96 trillion in 1980.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.