China Insights

Overall smoking rate drop, but more women light up

Sophie Shen

Former General Manager of CTR Media & Consumption Behaviour

Health 29.05.2015 / 11:06

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The smoking rate among Chinese declined by seven percentage points in the past 10 years. But there is a significant increase in female smokers.

The proportion of Chinese who "smoked in the past 12 months" dropped from 28.3% in 2005 to 21.3% in 2014, according to CNRS-TGI survey data released ahead of the "No Tobacco Day" on May 31.

This data set is based on CNRS-TGI's surveys in 36 Chinese major cities with about 80,000 samples polled each year.

Though there was a minor uptick in 2008 and 2009, statisticians said this is within the normal fluctuation range of a data set across a long period of time and won't change the overall nature of declining smoking rate in China.

The decline was mostly driven by an even bigger drop of male smokers. The proportion of smoking population among Chinese men lost 14.5 percentage points in 10 years, from 52.5% in 2005 to 38% in 2014.

The drop was the outcome of persistent anti-smoking campaign in China. With more people aware of smoking's damage to health, men are increasingly discouraged from smoking as well as limited in the space where they can smoke. Also, the campaigns have made smoking no longer a cool thing to do.

However, it is a totally different picture among female smokers. The smoking rate experienced a decline from 2005 to 2010, during which the rate dropped from 2.3% to 1.2%. But since then there was a significant and strong rebound: it nearly tripled to 3.3% in 2014.

The increase was propelled by the growing number of young, well-educated and high-income female smokers. CNRS-TGI data in 2014 has found that the average income of female smoker is 7,818 yuan, while that for all urban female population was only 4,367 yuan. Among all female smokers, 48% are between 15 and 34 and 64% of them have a bachelor and above degree. It seems women with higher social status and more education are more open to the idea of picking up smoking.

We also found that many women resorted to smoking to deal with pressure - 72% of female smokers agreed to "there are too many things in my life put pressure on me" in 2014, compared to 57% among all urban women.

Another factor is that Chinese society tolerates female smokers better -- people no longer see female smokers as strange, even though the public understand it is not healthy to smoke.

In a separate global survey, Kantar Health compared smokers' behaviour across China, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Spain.

Though biggest in population, Chinese smokers, it seems, are least addicted to this habit among the five. Fifty-eight percent of Chinese smokers consume less than 10 cigarettes a day in 2013, while it was below 50% for all the other countries. Also, 37% of Chinese smokers will light up their first cigarette of the day at least 60 minutes after they wake up.

Source: CTR, Kantar Health

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