Worldwide there are 1 billion smokers (about one-seventh of the entire population). And every year 6 million people die because of smoking or second-hand smoke. The World Health Organization called the “tobacco epidemic” the “biggest public health threat the world has ever faced.” So there are obvious health benefits for countries to push measures that ban smoking, but are smoking bans also indicators of economic growth?
As Theresa Bradley at Quartz points out, increased cigarette sales were once a sign that the economies of poor countries were growing. Now, though, it’s less smoking that’s pointing to increased wealth. Bradley looks to research from WHO’s Armando Peruga:
Smoking rates do grow with the economy, up to a point, Peruga says. In very poor countries with no tobacco-control policies, smoking increases with disposable incomes—and tobacco companies have focused marketing efforts there. But as living standards and education levels continue to rise, many countries see tobacco use fall off. Peruga says that national smoking rates also dip as governments become more transparent—presumably because tobacco companies’ have less influence on tax policy and other regulations.
That means poorer countries are not only seeing more smoking-related health problems than wealthy countries, it also means that tobacco companies are profiting off the poorest countries. Two of the largest tobacco companies, Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco, gain more than half of their revenue from poor countries and emerging economies. That can’t be a good sign for future progress.