Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Smoking deaths worldwide

Interesting new study from the American Cancer Society estimating that around 1 billion people smoke worldwide; around 35% in high income/developed nations like the USA and around 50% in low income/developing nations. Actually, the USA now has one of the lowest smoking prevalence rates of high income nations at about 23-24% of adults (it was around 55% in 1950). However, the rate of decrease has slowed quite a bit. It went from 55% in 1950 to around 25-26% in 1990, and now down to 23-24% almost 20 years later. This suggests we might be approaching the background rate of smoking, or the rate below which it will be quite hard to go below. Canada's smoking prevalence is a bit lower than ours, but most of continental Europe and certainly Japan, where smoking rates are over 40% has much higher smoking prevalence.

There are lots of factoids about China highlighted. For example, ~60% of Chinese men smoke, and China consumes 37% of the world's cigarettes. This is part of the reason the smoking settlement went through so quickly. The tobacco companies were trying to fix and make predictable their costs in the USA, and then focus on selling cigarettes in other nations.

I co-authored a book with several colleagues from Duke called, The Price of Smoking, published by MIT Press in 2004. We estimated that in $2000 dollars, the true societal cost of a pack of cigarettes was $40, with costs distributed as follows:
*The smoker bears about $33/pack, mostly through shortened life.
*The family of the smoker bears around $5.50/pack via things like second hand smoke.
*The rest of society (external costs) are about $1.50/pack.

We didn't estimate intangible costs. For example, my wife's father died at age 64 of lung cancer, and had COPD and was a life long smoker. He died before my youngest child was born, which my wife would say is costly (she wouldn't use the word costly, but stick with me). We assigned value of $0 to such costs, basically because we didn't know how to estimate such costs in dollar terms. If you would like to monetize such costs, just add zeros....

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