The frugal can roll their own; the traditionalists can stuff it in a pipe; everyone else can pick their poison from over 50 brands of filtered, unfiltered, flavored, plain, thick and thin cigarettes, proving that, no matter how it’s packaged, tobacco – with over one billion users across the globe – is the world’s most popular herb.
The wealth of the world’s tobacco is farmed across Turkey, Russia and India. However, this cash crop entered the international market shortly after the age of exploration when, following the example of Native Americans, tobacco became popular throughout Europe, Asia and North America. Unlike some of tropical America’s other choice plants, tobacco is legally available in almost every country in the world. It’s also highly addictive, making it one of the most profitable industries on the planet, grossing close to $500bn in 2013 alone, and this is in spite of tobacco’s well-publicised adverse effects. Containing over 250 chemicals harmful to humans in each puff, tobacco inhalation is thought by the World Health Organization to have led to the deaths of 6 million people a year through cancer and other associated disorders, making smoking a costly bad habit.
One of the chemicals most harmful to humans is also what draws them in. Nicotine is, of course, an incredibly addictive substance and more and more people all over the planet are becoming hooked. Unsurprisingly, the countries with the most smokers are also those with the biggest population. More surprisingly, perhaps, 80 percent of the world’s smoking population live in low to middle income countries, demonstrating that tobacco addiction is more than a first world problem. Still, there are some countries more addicted than others, and the countries on our list are probably the most tobacco addicted countries in the world, with the highest portion of their populations indulging in at least a nightly cigarette. Drawn from data compiled by the World Health Organisation, we’ve ranked the countries by the percentage of their adult population who are smokers.
10. Chile – 40.6 %
Chile is rightfully famous for its delicious mate, its Nobel prize winning literature, its commerce and industry, and for a certain incident involving 33 miners caught in a collapsed shaft for 69 days. What this leading South American nation might be less well-known for is its sizeable population of smokers. WHO estimates suggest that 40.6 percent of adult Chileans are addicted to cigarettes, making this sliver of country on the Pacific coast not only one of the narrowest nations in the world, but also among the smokiest.
Although the Chilean Winter – an ongoing student campaign for education reform – might be the government in Santiago’s primary concern at the moment, with over a third of the population smoking on the streets, and tobacco-related deaths on the rise, tobacco addiction is certainly no back bench issue. From 2013 a ban on smoking in bars, clubs, restaurants and casinos has been enforced in an effort to clear Chile’s airways, streets and lungs, hopefully curbing the popularity of cigarettes, and reducing the numbers of people dying from first and second hand smoke related deaths.
9. Greece – 41%
Turning from the Pacific to the Mediterranean, Europe’s first entry on this list is Greece, the continent’s second most tobacco-addicted nation.
Contending already with endemic economic and political problems, Greece is home to the world’s most marketed mythology, the capital city of Athens and hundreds of sun soaked islands. It also hosts more than 4.6 million smokers – that’s 41 percent of its population. Although a smoking ban in public places was passed into law in 2010, this embargo has been largely ignored, and Greeks continue to enjoy their daily cigarettes in cafes, restaurants and the public atria. Even a new tax on tobacco has done little to deter the nation from its habit and the anti-tobacco campaign is left pondering its next move. For now however, 41 percent of Greeks can sit back, enjoy the sun, and light another.
8. Solomon Islands – 41.4
The Solomon Islands were named after an insanely wealthy biblical king, in the belief that they contained great riches. Whatever the truth in this, this Pacific Island nation, a constitutional monarchy under the Queen of England, has had its share of problems, not least of which were t
he devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2007, the earthquake of 2013 and the smoking habit of 41.4 percent of its 523’000 population.
The Solomon Islanders might not have properly prepared for an earthquake, but they have certainly taken tobacco addiction by the horns. In the lead up to World No Tobacco Day (31 May 2013), billboards were put up around the capital city, Honiara, to raise awareness about tobacco addiction. At the opening ceremony of WNTD, the minister for Justice and Legal Affairs called Islanders to : “Say No: No to tobacco advertising. No to tobacco promotion. No to tobacco sponsorship. And yes to a happier and healthier future…”
Solomon Islanders may very well soon say no to tobacco, having inaugurated on WNTD ‘No Smoke Solomon Islands’, a yearlong campaign to promote addiction awareness and push through new public smoking regulations.
7. Cook Islands – 43.9
Comprising 15 small islands in the South Pacific, the Cook Islands may be one of the most isolated nations in the world, lying in the middle of a vast ocean between Hawaii and New Zealand. Made up of volcanic ash, coral reefs and cigarette butts, it hosts just under 20’000 people on land that only amounts to 240 square kilometres. Cook Islanders are mostly descended from the native Māori. Not unlike their distant neighbours in Hawaii, they rely on the natural beauty of their islands to attract tourism. With their foreign relations and defence left in the hands of New Zealand, Cook Islanders are left to tend to their beautifully preserved native culture, the tourism trade and their endemic tobacco addiction. With 43.9 percent of Cook Islanders regularly lighting up, the Cook Islands are both one of the smallest populations in the world, and among the most tobacco addicted.
6. Papua New Guinea – 44%
A lot is happening in Papua New Guinea. Across a population of 6.3 million people, as many as 836 languages are spoken with at least as many traditional societies to host them. Papua New Guinea is also home to the world’s third largest rain forest and harbours 5 percent of the world’s animal and plant species, all of this while remaining the 6th fasting growing economy in the world. With only 18 percent of the population living in an urban environment, there seems to be few strands binding Papua New Guineans together. One of the few things a large portion of the population have in common is tobacco addiction. About 44 percent of the population smoke tobacco – that’s a larger proportion of the population than can be boasted by any language or ethnic group, making tobacco one of the few unifying elements of Papua New Guinean culture, and earning the nation a place on this list.
5. Palau – 44%
Palau, yet another island nation in the west Pacific, may be small but in terms of habit, it thinks big. Even with 44 percent of its 21000 person population addicted to tobacco, cigarettes are not Palau’s biggest vice. In 2012, UN statistics revealed that Palau is the world’s cannabis and beer capital, with inhabitants smoking and drinking more weed and beer per capita than any other country in the world.
As serious as Palau’s societal problems are, in the past they faced even greater adversity. Since 1885 the natives of Palau have been invaded by the Spanish, sold to the Germans, conquered by the Japanese before finally being administered by the US, only gaining full independence in the last 20 years. Today Palau, which has only one state high school, supports its population on subsistence farming and derives much of it’s GNP from foreign aid, meaning that tobacco regulation is not a top priority for the world’s fifth most tobacco addicted nation.
4. Bosnia and Herzegovina – 44%
Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of Europe’s up and coming nations, and without a doubt its smokiest. Officially declaring its independence from the defunct Yugoslavia in 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina only escaped from the devastating Bosnian war with its neighbours in 1995. Since then it has become a tourism hotspot, experiencing the world’s third greatest growth in tourism since 1995, and this is with coastline that is just a little over 12 miles long.
With a high life expectancy, education standard and literacy level, Bosnia and Herzegovina is hardly typical of the nations on the latter part of this list, but is nevertheless Europe’s most tobacco addicted country. Of the country’s 3.7 million people, 44 percent have a smoking habit, which is little wonder, considering that the cost of a packet of cigarettes in Bosnia is one of the lowest in all Europe. With 45 percent of the country’s annual mortality attributed to non-communicable diseases, Bosnia and Herzegovina – despite its rising stature in the world – most certainly has a smoking problem.
3. Vanuatu – 52.5%
Vanuatu begins a trend that follows through to the end of this list, highlighting the Pacific islands as the most tobacco-addicted region in the world. Vanuatu itself, yet another island nation, made up of just over 220 000 people, is thought to have the third most tobacco addicted population in the world. 52.5 percent of the natives of Vanuatu’s 82 islands are habitual smokers. One of the larger Pacific Island nations, Vanuatu’s proximity to Australia and New Zealand has facilitated trade and tourism, and even though over half the country is made up of self-described smokers, the people of Vanuatu must be doing something right on their sandy beaches and in their idyllic rainforests, with the Lonely Planet Guide marking Vanuatu as the 10th happiest place in the world.
2. Nauru – 52.9%
Nauru is home to one of the world’s smallest – and largest – populations: With just over 9 000 citizens, Nauru, a Micronesian island country, is the second smallest nation in the world, bigger only than the Vatican City. It is also the fattest country on the planet, with 97 percent of men and 93 percent of women clinically obese. If the obesity had not already spoiled this sandy beach nation’s paradise-like image, its tobacco addiction might. Over half the population of Nauru are addicted to tobacco, making them the second most addicted population worldwide. 52.9 percent of all Nauru natives are smoker. With little effort on the part of the nation’s nineteen-man government to implement smoking regulation, this is unlikely to change anytime soon. For tobacco aficionados, at least, Nauru’s former name, Pleasant Island, continues to ring true.
1. Kiribati – 58%
Straddling the equator at the centre of the Pacific, home to a little over 100 000 people spread across 33 islands, Kiribati is neither the world’s largest country, nor its smallest, but, per capita, it is the most tobacco-addicted country on the planet. This island nation is one of the most isolated in the world. Indeed it is so isolated that, even though it can boast coconut palms, sandy beaches and sunny weather, tourism can’t flourish – leaving its Micronesian citizens to survive off subsistence farming and fishing. It has few exports and almost as few notable imports, with one particularly notable exception. Cigarettes are a staple of Kiribati’s economy, with millions of packets being imported by the year. In 2000, for example, 90 million packets of cigarettes were imported to the islands for a population that hardly exceeds 100 000. Like many of the nations on this list, Kiribati is a low income, subsistence country with few to no regulations on tobacco, and confirms the Pacific Islands as the smokiest region in the world. With 58 percent of inhabitants lighting up on a daily basis, Kiribati leaves all other nations in their fumes.