A graphic look at global smoking trends

At the turn of the century, 27% of people smoked around the world; by 2025 this figure should drop to 17%, WHO predicts Keystone

In which countries are people kicking the habit? Are women doing better than men? And what about Switzerland, home to the tobacco industry? Here is a visual summary of the data from a new World Health Organization (WHO) report on smoking trends. 

This content was published on May 31, 2018
Duc-Quang Nguyen and Simon Bradley

According to the Geneva-based United Nations health agency, globally one in five people over the age of 15 was a regular smoker in 2016. Over 24 million children aged 13-15 smoke cigarettes, WHO said in a reportExternal link released on Thursday to mark World No Tobacco DayExternal link. Scroll over the chart for details.

External Content

Since 2000, lighting up has become much less popular. At the turn of the century, almost one in three people smoked (26.9%); by 2025 this figure should drop to 17.3%. But this global decline in smoking hides variations between regions and between the sexes. 

Tobacco smoking appears to be decreasing in almost all parts of the world except Africa and the eastern Mediterranean region. Significant progress in controlling tobacco use by both men and women was reported in the Americas, led by countries like Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay and Colombia, but to a lesser extent in the United States, WHO said. 

In general, high-income countries are making faster progress than low- and middle-income ones, explained Douglas Bettcher, WHO’s director for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases.

External Content

Significant numbers of women are kicking the habit, apart from in Europe, while the pace of reduction for men is a “cause for concern”, WHO says. In 2000, the percentage of male smokers worldwide stood at 43% before falling to 34% in 2015, while over the same period the percentage of women smokers fell from 11% to 6%. Scroll over the chart for details.

External Content

Despite the overall decline, WHO regrets that only one in eight countries is on track to meet a voluntary target of a 30% cut in tobacco use by 2025, based on a 2010 baseline. It says one of the major factors impeding low- and middle-countries is the tobacco industry with its aggressive promotion of tobacco products, especially to young people, and its ongoing efforts to conceal the dangers of smoking. 

In its latest report, the health agency warns that tobacco kills over seven million people a year, and cautions that many people are unaware of the dangers of heart disease and strokes caused by smoking.

External Content

"Switzerland could do better and we hope that it will become a party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco ControlExternal link soon," said Bettcher on the decline in Swiss smokers since 2000. Switzerland signed the treaty in 2004 but has not ratified it, partly due to recent changes to a draft law on tobacco productsExternal link and specific issues related to advertising and sponsorship. 

The WHO official said the small alpine country was good at monitoring tobacco use and prevention measures. But he described smoke-free policies and tobacco-related advertising bans across the 26-canton state as “very patchy”. He felt the tobacco industry – Philip Morris, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International all have headquarters in Switzerland - had a “very strong” impact on Swiss policy. 

Commenting on the decline in Swiss smokers, Daniel Dauwalder, a spokesman for the Federal Office of Public HealthExternal link, pointed out that Swiss tobacco legislation was “relatively liberal”. 

“The most effective measures to reduce the percentage of smokers such as more expensive cigarettes or tobacco advertising bans are not likely to gain sufficient political support right now,” he said. 

The health office says around 9,500 people – out of a population of 8.4 million - die in Switzerland every year from tobacco-related illnesses.

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Sort by

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Almost finished... We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

Weekly top stories

Keep up to date with the best stories from SWI on a range of topics, straight into your mailbox.


The SBC Privacy Policy provides additional information on how your data is processed.