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Three in 10 Chinese Adults Smoke

by Bryant Ott and Rajesh Srinivasan

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Three in 10 Chinese said they smoke regularly (25%) or occasionally (5%), according to Gallup surveys conducted shortly after China's ban on smoking in public places took effect last May. This translates to roughly 320 million adults -- or more than the entire population of the United States -- and underscores the potential health crisis China faces as it tries to reduce an estimated 1 million smoking-related deaths each year in its country.

Chinese smokers and nonsmokers

Recent studies show that about 3,000 Chinese are dying each day from smoking-related diseases, and that the number could rise to 8,000 per day by 2050. Chinese men's smoking habits place their health disproportionately at risk. Gallup surveys find about 6 in 10 Chinese men say they smoke at least occasionally, while 3% of Chinese women say they do.

Smoking Widespread Across Much of Asia

China may account for one-third of the world's smokers, but its smoking rate ranks second in Asia. Indonesians are the most likely in the region to say they smoke at least occasionally. More than one-third of Indonesians say they smoke, including 64% of the country's men and 6% of Indonesian women. Similar gender gaps are present in each of the 15 Asian countries surveyed.

Smoking rates in Asia

The ubiquity of smoking throughout China's culture, coupled with the country's financial stake in the tobacco industry as the world's largest tobacco producers and consumers, fuel doubts among health experts and the media about the potential effectiveness of the nearly year-old ban. Persuading hundreds of millions of Chinese smokers to quit and preventing young Chinese from picking up the habit will likely require public education, time, and compliance with existing bans.

The World Health Organization (WHO) rates China's compliance with bans on various types of advertising of tobacco a 5 out of 10, where 0 is "low compliance." According to the WHO, the country banned advertising of tobacco in China on national and international television and radio stations and in local and international magazines and newspapers. But ads can appear on billboards or outdoor advertising, at the point of sale, and on the Internet. Additionally, China does not ban the free distribution of tobacco or promotional discounts on such products.

Further, it may be tough to convince Chinese smokers about the health dangers of tobacco use to get them to quit. Chinese smokers are largely satisfied with their own personal health, and they are no more likely than nonsmokers to say they have health problems that prevent them from doing any of the things people their age normally can do. About one in seven Chinese smokers say they have such health problems (13%), about the same proportion of Chinese nonsmokers (14%).

Health problems for smokers vs. nonsmokers

Bottom Line

Gallup's data suggest China will need to approach its smoking problem more aggressively than it has to stem a looming health crisis that will affect more than the country's roughly 320 million smokers. More than one-half of adult Chinese nonsmokers working indoors are exposed to second-hand smoke in the workplace (55%), one of the highest percentages among the 14 countries that completed the WHO Global Adult Tobacco Survey from 2008 to 2010. The same WHO survey found Chinese smokers the least likely among those in the 14 countries surveyed to say they are planning to quit or are thinking about quitting smoking.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with 4,220 adults in China, aged 15 and older, conducted June 17-July 27, 2011. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2.2 percentage points. For results based on each sample of national adults in other Asian countries surveyed, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranged from a low of ±2.0 percentage points to a high of ±3.9 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

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