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Big Tobacco’s New Targets

2 minute read
Jeffrey Kluger

There are a lot of ways to divide the world–rich and poor, east and west, industrial and agrarian. Now add one more: smoking and nonsmoking. In the U.S. and other developed countries, Big Tobacco is on the run, chased to the curbs by a combination of lawsuits, smoking bans and high taxes. Fewer than 20% of Americans now smoke–the lowest rate since reliable records have been kept. President Barack Obama recently signed laws boosting federal cigarette taxes from 32¢ a pack to $1 and giving the FDA the power to regulate cigarettes like any other food or drug.

But the West is not the world, and elsewhere, smoking is exploding. This year tobacco companies will produce more than 5 trillion cigarettes–or about 830 for every person on the planet. In China, 350 million people are currently hooked on tobacco, which means the country has more smokers than the U.S. has people. Smoking rates in Indonesia have quintupled since 1970.

In Africa the battle for the hearts, minds and lungs of new smokers is being waged particularly aggressively. The continent still enjoys the lowest smoking rates in the world, largely because most people just can’t afford cigarettes. But the tobacco industry abhors a vacuum, and in recent years, it has been working hard to fill it.

In 2003 the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, adopted a treaty designed to attack global smoking through a mix of methods including bans and tax hikes. So far, 164 countries have joined the pact. The U.S. signed the treaty in 2004 but has yet to implement it, though the President is expected to seek Senate ratification soon. That step–like every step taken to hold back the tobacco flood tide–will help. Meanwhile, here’s a snapshot of where we stand–and the work that still needs to be done.

See how many people smoke around the world.

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com