Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Gratification

Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette

How would you explain to a man from Mars that every day, and in significant numbers, human beings put rolled-up tubes of paper filled with shredded dried vegetation in their mouths, solemnly set fire to them, and breathe in the smoke?

World Health Organization (WHO) figures have branded tobacco a bigger hazard to human health than malaria and tuberculosis combined.  Fast-expanding anti-smoking measures have been pushing back. Bans on tobacco advertising and sponsorship proliferate. Lawmakers have piled on taxes, marketing restrictions, and even insisted that brand names disappear from the packaging, as in Australia. Such measures have helped a few countries like Panama to cut smoking by up to 70%.  Western European cigarette consumption has fallen by over 40% in a decade and a half.  It can’t be long now, you might think, before the demon weed disappears altogether.

You’d be wrong.  Worldwide annual consumption is still rising, from 5.1 trillion smokes fifteen years ago to a staggering count of 5.9 trillion today… and even that figure leaves out bootleg and black market cigs.  There are large parts of our planet where cigarette-smoking is still a fast-growing part of daily life.  China is the world’s biggest market, with cigarettes per person up 30% since 1990.  Eastern Europe has the highest per-capita consumption of any region;  Serbians each gasp their way through over 3,300 cigarettes a year. 

There are observable patterns in worldwide smoking. The further east and south you are, the higher your likelihood of being a smoker.  Spanish-speakers smoke in bigger numbers than those who speak English, French, German or Portuguese -- especially in countries where the original Iberian genes remain largely unmixed with other ethnic groups, such as Spain and Chile. Catholic countries have more smokers than Protestant ones, implying a touching faith that Rome will forgive your lungs as well as your sins.

Biases by sex can vary widely. In China, Russia and Mexico male smokers outnumber females by big margins, implying that lighting up there still carries a connotation of machismo, or its oriental equivalent. In Chile’s capital of Santiago nearly 40% of girls aged 13-15 are smokers, apparently to prove their independent and liberated attitudes in a still patriarchal society.  In the USA, 46% of teenage girls say they smoke cigarettes to lose weight or stay thin.  That’s hard to argue with, since tobacco smoke dulls the appetite and slows down your metabolism.  Anti-smoking campaigners there are considering changing tack, and trying to convince young smokers that they are not as overweight as they think they are.

Our visitor from Mars would learn a lot from all this about the human race’s endearing illogicality and capacity for acting against its own interests. 

Smoking, a thing of the past? Pi says: don’t hold your breath.

Zone: Self-Gratification Country: Multiple Geographies Product – Consumer Products