Unsustainable habits

OECD Observer

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Cigarette smoking has fallen sharply across OECD countries in the past 40 years, as governments waged health campaigns and raised taxes on tobacco to discourage the habit.

Sweden can claim the lowest smoking rate among OECD countries, with 18.9% of the population admitting to being regular smokers in 2000, down from 25.8% in 1990, followed by the US with 19.0%, down from 25.6% a decade earlier. The Japanese can meanwhile claim the dubious distinction of being the heaviest smokers, with 34.3% of people taking a puff daily in 1999, just slightly lower than 37% in 1990, figures in the latest edition of OECD Health Data show.

But if US residents have been smoking less they have also been eating more, with the health data reporting that 26% of the population suffer from obesity, the highest recorded among OECD countries. The heavier-smoking Dutch, on the other hand, have an obesity level of just 8.7%. This coincidence should not be seen as a recommendation to “weight-challenged” people to take up smoking in a bid to shed some kilos, since both excess weight and cigarettes are associated with serious health risks and high medical costs. One notable difference between them, though, is that while cigarette packs usually carry health warnings, unhealthy foods do not.


• OECD Health Data 2002, a CD-ROM of health and health-related statistics for OECD countries which comes complete with the capacity to download regular updates online.

©OECD Observer No. 233, August 2002

Economic data

GDP growth: -9.8% Q2/Q1 2020 2020
Consumer price inflation: 1.3% Sep 2020 annual
Trade (G20): -17.7% exp, -16.7% imp, Q2/Q1 2020
Unemployment: 7.3% Sep 2020
Last update: 10 Nov 2020

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