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Global smoking numbers reach all-time high

June 1, 2021


The number of smokers has reached an all-time high of 1.1 billion, a report published by the Lancet has revealed.

The research will provide further impetus to those promoting the role of harm-reduction products such as vape, heated tobacco and nicotine pouches.

According to the new research, smoking killed almost 8 million people in 2019, representing almost one-in-five deaths of men. Eighty-nine percent of new smokers were addicted by 25. Most concerningly, the study’s authors say the global number of smokers continues to rise and that governments need to focus on reducing the uptake of smoking among young people.

The research was based on a study of 204 countries and was produced as part of the Global Burden of Disease consortium of researchers, which studies health issues that lead to death and disability. Researchers found that although the prevalence of smoking has reduced globally over the past three decades, it increased for men in 20 countries and women in 12. Ten countries made up two-thirds of the world’s smoking population: China, India, Indonesia, the US, Russia, Bangladesh, Japan, Turkey, Vietnam and the Philippines. Astonishingly, one in three current tobacco smokers (341 million) live in China.

The reports release coincides with a call from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) for the UK government to raise the age for tobacco sales to 21, potentially saving more than 100,000 lives in the first year.

A YouGov poll commissioned by ASH found increasing the age of sale from 18 to 21 had support from 63 percent of adults in England, with 54 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds backing the move. Support stands at around 59 percent for 11 to 18-year-olds, while two-thirds of Conservative voters polled said they wanted the age of sale increased to 21.

Robert West, emeritus professor at UCL, said: “Tobacco dependence is an addictive disorder that typically starts before the brain has matured, with the vast majority starting before the age of 21, and substantial uptake between 18 and 20. Our modelling shows that increasing the age of sale for tobacco to 21 will lead to an immediate and substantial decline in smoking prevalence among young adults, far greater than any other policy measure under consideration.”

ASH chief executive Deborah Arnott said: “This powerful global study shows clearly that smoking is an addiction of youth. Raising the age of sale to 21 could protect more than a hundred thousand people from a lethal addiction which many will struggle their whole lives to quit. And that’s just in the first year. If we’re to achieve the government’s vision of a smoke-free country by 2030, this is the kind of bold action that’s needed.”