OECD Factbook 2011-2012: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics
Previous page 151/157 Next page
branch Health
branch Risk factor
    branch Smoking

Tobacco is responsible for about one-in-ten adult deaths worldwide, equating to about 6 million deaths each year. It is a major risk factor for at least two of the leading causes of premature mortality - circulatory disease and cancer, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and mouth, and pancreatic cancer. It also causes peripheral vascular disease and hypertension. In addition, it is an important contributory factor for respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), while smoking among pregnant women can lead to low birth weight and illnesses among infants. It remains the largest avoidable risk to health in OECD countries.

Several studies provide strong evidence of socio-economic differences in smoking and related mortality. People in lower social groups have a greater prevalence and intensity of smoking. The influence of smoking as a determinant of overall health inequalities is such that, in a non-smoking population, mortality differences between social groups would be halved.

In the post-war period, most OECD countries tended to follow a general pattern marked by very high smoking rates among men (50% or more) through to the 1960s and 1970s, while the 1980s and the 1990s were characterised by a marked downturn in tobacco consumption. Much of this decline can be attributed to policies aimed at reducing tobacco consumption through public awareness campaigns, advertising bans and increased taxation, in response to rising rates of tobacco-related diseases. In addition to government policies, actions by anti-smoking interest groups were very effective in reducing smoking rates by changing beliefs about the health effects of smoking, particularly in North America.


The proportion of daily smokers is defined as the percentage of the population aged 15 years and over reporting smoking every day.


International comparability is limited due to the lack of standardisation in the measurement of smoking habits in health interview surveys across OECD countries. Variations remain in the age groups surveyed, wording of questions, response categories and survey methodologies. For example in a number of countries, respondents are asked if they smoke regularly, rather than daily.


The proportion of daily smokers among the adult population varies greatly across countries, even between neighbouring countries. Thirteen of 34 OECD countries had less than 20% of the adult population smoking daily in 2009. Rates among OECD countries were lowest in Mexico, Sweden, Iceland, the United States, Canada and Australia. Although large disparities remain, smoking rates across most OECD countries have shown a marked decline. On average, smoking rates have decreased by about one-fifth over the past ten years, with a higher decline for men than for women. Large declines occurred in Denmark (from 31% to 19%), Iceland (from 25% to 16%), Norway (from 32% to 21%), Canada (from 24% to 16%) and New Zealand (from 26% to 18%). Greece maintains the highest level of smoking (40%), along with Chile and Ireland among OECD countries, with around 30% or more of the adult population smoking daily. Smoking rates are also high in the Russian Federation. Greece and the Czech Republic are the only two OECD countries where smoking rates have increased over the past ten years.

Smoking prevalence among men is higher in all OECD countries except Sweden. Rates for men and women are nearly equal in Iceland, Norway and the United Kingdom. Smoking rates for women continue to decline in most OECD countries, and in a number of cases (Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States) at an even faster pace than rates for men. However, in three countries for women smoking rates have been increasing over the last ten years (the Czech Republic, Greece and Korea), but even in these countries women are still less likely to smoke than men. In 2009, the gender gap in smoking rates was particularly large in Korea, Japan and Turkey, as well as in the Russian Federation, Indonesia and China.



Further information
Analytical publications
  • Joumard, I., et al.  (2008), “Health Status Determinants: Lifestyle, Environment, Health Care Resources and Efficiency”, OECD Economics Department Working Papers, No. 627.
  • OECD (2010), Health Care Systems: Efficiency and Policy Settings, OECD Publishing.
Statistical publications
Online databases
Indicator in PDF Acrobat PDF page

Adult population smoking daily Figure in Excel
Adult population smoking daily
Change in smoking rates Figure in Excel
Change in smoking rates
Adult population smoking daily by gender Figure in Excel
Adult population smoking daily by

Visit the OECD web site