More than 10% of all deaths globally are caused by smoking. World Health Organization calls the tobacco epidemic one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. The Sustainable Development Goal 3 (target 3.a) seeks to reduce tobacco use. With the harms quite obviously outweighing the supposed benefits, you’d think that smoking was on the way out. And it is – in most places. The EU has regulated smoking in restaurants, and many countries have imposed stricter rules, regulating when and where you’re allowed to light up. In 2014 the government of Finland set a goal of the whole country being smoke free by 2040. In many places less and less young people are picking up the habit.
But like many things in the world, the harm is not distributed evenly. According to the WHO, almost 80% of all the smokers globally live in low- and middle-income countries, which are also hit the hardest by the related illnesses and death. With the number of smokers steadily decreasing globally, tobacco companies are looking for new markets, and sometimes using rather intensive advertising strategies. In contrast to the rest of the world, the number of smokers is actually increasing in the regions of the eastern Mediterranean, and especially in the sub-Saharan Africa.
There’s also a lot of cultural factors that go into smoking. A prestige can be associated to certain brands that are usually foreign. A pack of cigarettes is sometimes called the cheapest status symbol in the world. The number of women who smoke is also increasing in some countries, which can be a way for women to signal independence. And all smokers do know that the best gossip is always in the smoking area. But given the deadliness of the habit, everyone should at least be aware of its effects.
In the end smoking is an individual choice. But it’s a choice that has consequences. In addition to those 6 million people dying from smoking each year, an estimated 890 000 people die from second-hand smoke. That’s a lot from an individual choice someone else made. As tomorrow is the World No Tobacco Day, it might be a good idea to consider if smoking is something that’s really in accordance to your personal values, or would you rather take responsibility for improving our common environment. But if you still choose to light up, please mind those around you.