The percentage of people who smoke has fallen in most countries since 1990, but the total numbers of smokers and smoking deaths have risen, a study says. Half the tobacco-related mortalities occur in just four countries.
There were more than 6.4 million deaths attributable to tobacco worldwide in 2015, with half of them in only four countries - China, India, the United States and Russia - according to a new study published on Thursday in the medical journal "The Lancet."
The study, entitled "Global Burden of Diseases" noted that the percentage of smokers globally had dropped in the past 25 years, with one in four men and one in 20 women lighting up daily in 2015, as compared with one in three men and one in 12 women in 1990.
However, the number of deaths caused by tobacco use went up by 4.7 percent in the same period, a rise due to the increasing world population. The number of daily smokers also rose to more than 930 million people, compared with 870 million in 1990 - a jump of 7 percent.
The study showed a wide disparity between countries in the respective percentages of smokers. Brazil scored one of the biggest successes in reducing the number of its tobacco users over the 25-year-period, with the percentage dropping from 29 to 12 percent among men, and from 19 to 8 percent among women.
But in countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh and the Philippines, where 47, 38 and 35 percent of men respectively smoke on a daily basis, the figure remained constant from 1990 to 2015.
In Russia, where anti-smoking policies were not introduced until 2014, there was even a rise of more than 4 percent in smoking among women.
The World Health Organization has warned that in sub-Saharan Africa, which is being aggressively targeted by major tobacco companies, the number of men and women smoking could go up 50 percent by 2025, compared with 2010.
"The modern tobacco industry profits from enslaving children and young people in poor countries into a lifelong addiction, ultimately taking their lives for profit," John Britton from the University of Notthingham's UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies told AFP news agency.
Britton also noted that global measures aimed at curbing smoking - such as higher taxes, education campaigns and package warnings - mostly focused on tobacco consumers and not producers of tobacco products.
Health experts estimate that half of daily smokers will die a premature death caused by their habit unless they quit.
"Smoking remains the second largest risk factor for early death and disability" after high blood pressure, said one of the study's senior authors, Emmanuela Gakidou from the University of Washington in Seattle, USA.