How Many People Still Smoke

by | Jun 20, 2019


Flipping through HBO this weekend I watched a bit of a movie from the late 1980s. I noticed something strange – all sorts of people in the movie were smoking. We don’t see that in movies anymore. Similarly, of all the people I know, I think only a handful of them smoke. So, how prevalent is smoking this decade?

About 34 million American adults smoke regularly. That is about 14% of the population. Worldwide it looks like this:


Smoking has been on the decline, but not as big of a decline as I would have thought:


The intensity of smoking, shown by the number of cigarettes sold, shows a bigger decline:


Smoking rates vary greatly by education level and income:


About 20% of adults in China smoke and the number of smokers is increasing:


Finally, smoking is bad for you! Nearly 40% of all cancer deaths in the U.S. is attributed to smoking:



  1. Looking more closely at why smoking is stratified by income is an important and interesting public health discussion. Intersecting factors like differential tobacco marketing based on neighborhood, chronic stress, and access to health education can all contribute to high rates of smoking among low-income Americans, thereby also placing the burden of tobacco-related disease on specific populations. Also of note: quitting smoking can be quite expensive, with a pack of nicotine gum costing ~$50-60 for a 10 day supply.

  2. Number of daily smokers doesn’t seem to be adjusted for population growth. Over the 32 year period (1980-2012) population probably grew substantially. I think the % of Americans that smoke has probably significantly decreased more than the absolute numbers suggest. Interesting IFOD!

    • Great point!

  3. Just back from trip to Tempe and Sedona AZ — lots of smokers. All out door patios and even pool decks provided ashtrays.

  4. About a third of smokers get lung cancer; most smokers get emphysema (a small fraction are protected by genetic make-up); ALL smokers get small vessel disease. Ask any surgeon: smokers, like diabetics, are notorious for poor wound healing, and look at their wrinkled skin. Plus, smokers are at risk for kidney disease, etc.


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