Smoking


In which countries do people smoke the most?

One-in-five (20%) adults in the world smoke tobacco.

But where in the world is smoking most common?

In the map we see the share of adults, aged 15 years and older, who smoke tobacco. There are five countries where more than 40% of the population smoke. Three are Pacific islands and two are in the Balkans:

  1. Kiribati (47%);
  2. Montenegro (46%);
  3. Greece (43%);
  4. Timor (43%);
  5. Nauru (40%).

Indonesia; Russia; Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Serbia (39%), and Chile (38%) complete the top ten.

The places where many people smoke are clustered in two regions. South-East Asia and the Pacific islands and Europe – particularly the Balkan region – but also France (33%), Germany (31%), and Austria (30%).

In some countries very few people smoke: in Ethiopia, Ghana, Peru and Honduras less than 5% smoke. In Honduras, it’s every 50th person.

There are several factors which influence the prevalence of smoking. One is prosperity: if we look at the relationship between smoking prevalence and income we find that richer countries tend to smoke more. But as you see in this correlation there are very large differences at each level of income.

Smoking rates are high across many countries, but we know from experience that this can change quickly. Many of today’s high-income countries had much higher rates of smoking in the past, and have seen a dramatic reduction. In 2000, the UK had rates similar to Indonesia today – 38% of adults smoked. Since then, rates in the UK have fallen to 22%. The rise, peak, then decline of smoking is one we see across many countries.

The prevalence of smoking also differs significantly between men and women. Here we look at sex differences in smoking across the world.

Smoking frequency and intensity

Share smoking everyday

Number smoking everyday

Intensity of smoking

Who smokes more, men or women?

Every 5th adult in the world smokes tobacco. But there are large differences between men and women.

More than one-third (35%) of men in the world smoke. Just over 6% of women do. Here is the data for men; here for women.

In almost all countries it is true that more men smoke. In the visualization we see the share of men who smoke (plotted on the y-axis) compared with the same metric for women women (plotted on the x-axis).

The grey line in the plot represents equality in the prevalence: countries where smoking is more common in men will lie above this line; and countries where more women smoke lie below.

We see that almost all countries lie above the grey line, meaning a higher share of men smoke. But there are a few exceptions: in the Pacific island-state of Nauru 43% of women smoke compared to 37% of men; and smoking rates in Denmark and Sweden show almost no sex difference.

In many countries – particularly across Asia and Africa – the differences are very large. We see these countries clustered on the far left, where smoking rates for women are very low – typically less than 5%. In Indonesia, 76% of men smoke but only 3% of women; in China it’s 48% of men versus 2% of women; and in Egypt half of men smoke whilst almost no women (0.2%) do.

We also see this when we look at a map of smoking among women across the world: across much of Africa and Asia, rates are very low. You can find the world map of smoking rates in men here.

The fact that men are more likely than women to smoke is reflected health statistics: particularly lung cancer, for which smoking is a primary risk factor. We see that in every country in the world, men are more likely to die from lung cancer.

The rise and fall of smoking in rich countries

The case of the US

Annual adult per capita cigarette consumption and major smoking and health events in United States, 1900-1998 – Hanson, Venturelli, and Fleckenstein (2009)1
Annual adult per capita cigarette consumption and major smoking and health events - United States, 1900-1998 - Hanson, Venturelli, and Fleckenstein (2009)

Smoking and cancer

US cigarette consumption for all adult men and women, 1900-9, and lung and bronchus cancer, 1930-1998, for men and women – Lomborg2
US cigarette consumption for all adult men and women, 1900-9, and lung and bronchus cancer, 1930-98, for men and women - Lomborg0

Share of cancer deaths attributed to smoking

Deaths from smoking

Number of deaths from smoking

Deaths from secondhand smoke

Number of premature deaths from secondhand smoke

Secondhand smoke deaths by age

Price of smoking and taxes

Average prices of cigarettes

Taxes on cigarettes

Smoking vs GDP per capita

Policies on smoking

Data Sources

International Mortality and Smoking Statistics (IMASS)
  • Data: Consumption of tobacco products, prevalence of smoking and mortality
  • Geographical coverage: 30 countries
  • Time span: Often spanning back 100 years
  • Available at: Online here
Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), Global Burden of Disease (GBD)
  • Data: Death rates and absolute number of premature deaths from smoking and secondhand-smoke
  • Geographical coverage: Global, across all regions and countries
  • Time span: 1990 onwards
  • Available at: Online here
World Health Organization (WHO) Global Health Observatory (GHO)
  • Data: Smoking prevalence, prices, taxes and policy support
  • Geographical coverage: Global, across all regions and countries
  • Available at: Online here