Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

A City of Smokers?

September 21, 2010 · 4 Comments

Maybe my perceptions are a bit skewed coming from Southern California – where it has been illegal to smoke in restaurants the longest and anyone who lights up is shot death glares from everyone within a ten-mile radius- but it seems to me that number of people who smoke in London is drastically higher than in the States.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been walking down the street only to have the person in front or to the side of me exhale their smoke directly into my path. I’ve had cigarette butts almost land on me as a smoker tosses it away multiple times. Again, maybe I’m particularly sensitive to this- not just because I come from California, but because I had severe asthma as a child, still am highly allergic to cigarette smoke, AND my mother spent almost 10 years teaching tobacco and drug education in the California public schools. So, I think it’s fair to say I’m pretty aware of smoking.

I’m making no personal judgements on smokers, but I just don’t understand how it can be so much more rampant here. At first I reasoned that maybe the UK’s tobacco education programs (if they have them at all) aren’t as widespread as they are in the States and California in particular but then I happened to notice the label on a discarded pack of ciggies, which looked a little something like this:

[Photo: http://www.tobaccoonline.co.uk/images/products/1217200833339AMSobranie-Cocktail-cigarette.png]

I don’t make a habit of checking cigarette pack warning labels in the US, but I’m pretty sure that our warning labels use much smaller print and read something along the lines of: WARNING- cigarettes have been known to cause cancer and certain birth defects.  But, no- the Brits put it right out there in big bold print- SMOKING KILLS. So why does such what seems to be a huge percent of London’s population continue to do it? There is a very weird disconnect here . . .

I actually did some research on this and, according to the London Health Observatory, “About 10 million adults in Great Britain smoke cigarettes – 23% of men and 21% of women” (http://www.lho.org.uk/LHO_Topics/National_Lead_Areas/Smoking.aspx#Smoking). However, data from the 2008 General Lifestyle Survey showed that, compared to other regions of England, London doesn’t actually have that high a percentage of smokers:

“The regions of England with the highest prevalence were the North West, and Yorkshire and the Humber, where 23 to 25 per cent of people were cigarette smokers (similar to the level in Scotland). The prevalence of cigarette smoking was lowest, at 19 per cent, in the East of England and in London”- http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_compendia/GLF08/GLFSmoking&DrinkingAmongAdults2008.pdf

I’m not trying to make a particular point here or offer any words of wisdom for London or Great Britain as a whole- I’m truthfully just amazed at how many people seem to smoke here. Looking at the statistics, though, makes it seem like London isn’t really that much of a smoker’s city.

So, I guess, what I’m asking is, what have been everyone else’s experiences? Am I just uber-sensitive? Are the statistics plain wrong? Maybe a little of both? Whatever the case may be, I really wish Londoners would stop blowing their smoke wherever they please and be a little more conscientious- some of us have delicate lungs! *cough*

Categories: 2010 Elizabeth
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4 responses so far ↓

  •   tylerweick // Sep 21st 2010 at 12:57

    Interesting that you mention the higher rate of smoking in the UK compared to the US. Even though the taxes on cigarettes are much higher here, they clearly don’t deter many from smoking. A theory which may or may not have any actual bearing in reality is that municipalities with a large tax on smoking are less prone to support anti-smoking programs that end up eliminating a large source of tax revenues when they are successful (kind of a tragedy of the commons in reverse).

    Another theory is that medical insurance costs much more for smokers in the USA. Because medical care is provided free at point of use in the UK, there is less incentive to quit smoking to save money. Personally, I don’t think it has anything to do with money or anti-smoking programs. Its not difficult to understand a 3 inch label that says SMOKING KILLS. I’m just trying to understand if there is a cultural explanation for this phenomenon

  •   tylerweick // Sep 21st 2010 at 13:05

    from these surveys dated 2006, it seems that 24% of over 16s in the UK smoke (http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=866), compared to a little over 20% of adults in the USA (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5644a2.htm).

    Of course, these surveys use two separate parameters (the UK survey defines adults as those over 16).

  •   seann // Sep 21st 2010 at 15:43

    Ha, you may not enjoy s.korea so much, then. Up until a few years ago, 50% of Korean males smoked.

  •   Young Dennis // Sep 21st 2010 at 17:37

    I was just going to start a blog post with “American cities may have dysfunctional politics, minimal public transportation, and disgraceful amounts of violence, but they got one thing right: comprehensive smoking bans.” I have definitely had the same perception that smoking is much more common here, and a lot of the same problems (namely that I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to cigarette smoke). Rarely has my daily 3/4 of a mile trek to Regent’s gone without someone blowing smoke in my face. While in no way are the blowers at fault, it’s still incredibly frustrating as I feel like inhaling the smoke defeats the purpose of aerobic exercise.

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