Serbia: Smoking Capital of the World

In a recent article by the Wall Street Journal Serbia ranked number one in the world in cigarettes sold per capita. Serbia topped all countries with 2,861 cigarettes smoked per capita. They defeated fellow Balkan countries Bulgaria (#2 – 2,822) and Greece (#3 2,795). Eastern Europe took the top eight spots with Russia (#4 – 2,786) and Ukraine (#5 2,401) rounding out the top five.

I thought Serbia would rank pretty high because you see (and smell) smokers all the time. The Serbian government last year put the first laws prohibiting smoking in certain areas and it has improved the climate for non-smokers. I always wondered what percentage of Serbs are regular, pack-a-day smokers. I would guess it would be around 1/3.

Armed with this data point, 2,861 cigarettes per person, I did a bit more mathematics. If the population of Serbia is 7,276,604 million people, then that would mean almost 21 billion cigarettes were smoked (20,818,364,044). If a pack contains 20 cigarettes, that would be a little over 1 billion packs of cigarettes (1,040,918,202). If you subtract the 14.9 percent of the population that is under the age of 14, that would mean the adult population smoked 166.5 packs per person. If you assume that the average smoker consumes 1 pack per day, that would mean that roughly 50% of Serbs would be considered regular smokers (46.5%). – Note to readers, please correct me if I am wrong on this. I took the population statistics from the CIA World Factbook.

Why do so many Serbians smoke? One reason is the cheap cost of cigarettes, $2 per pack. There are not many restrictions regarding smoking and the recent laws do not go far enough to put a damper on people’s habits. Although I love that the two big shopping malls in the city are now smoke-free, even the cafes. I don’t feel they went strong enough, with most bars and restaurants, still having large smoking areas alongside non-smoking areas. There is not much in public service announcements as well and smoking is not a taboo, like it is in many western countries.

The Wall Street Journal focuses on Russia’s attempts at lowering the smoking rate. I think the time is right for Serbia to tackle smoking. It must be costing the health care system a lot. It is also ironic that a people that look so good (thin, athletic) and are so active, have such a bad health habit as smoking. I hope they can get Serbia out of first place.


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