Different stages of the tobacco epidemic among South American countries

Despite sharing many socio-economic and cultural characteristics, there are important differences in the stage of the tobacco epidemic among South American countries. Fortunately, analyzing data of the recent multinational study of Ng et al. (2014), there is a downward trend in smoking prevalence in almost all countries in the continent. In 1980, there were three countries with prevalence of smoking of 30% or more, whereas in 2012 there was none. Some countries like Bolivia and Venezuela had decreased smoking by 9-10% from 1996 to 2012. However, despite the downward trend, the three countries with the highest prevalence of smoking in 1980, remained the same in 2012: Chile, Bolivia, and Uruguay, presenting a prevalence of above 20%.

The three most populous countries in the continent (Brazil, Colombia and Argentina) have shown decline in smoking prevalence from 1980 to 2012. Brazil and Colombia have 13.7% and 11.2% of smokers currently, decreasing by 7% and 5% since 1980, respectively. Argentina also showed a significant decrease in the period (around 7%), however showing moderate-high prevalence close to 20% in 2012. Interestingly, Ecuador remained as the country of lowest prevalence of smoking in the continent, presenting prevalence close to 6%. Despite the downward trend in the region, Peru, the fifth most populous country on the continent, has shown a slight increase in the prevalence of smoking since 1980, however standing at 11.2%, a moderate-low prevalence.

In conclusion, I believe that the decline of smoking in our continent is considerable, being a result of very successful tobacco control policies in part of the countries. Nowadays, there is very different acceptance and social perception of smoking, creating an unfavorable atmosphere for it. However, there are notable regional differences, such as between Chile and Ecuador, in which the first has prevalence more than 4 times greater than the second (28.8% versus 6.6%). Another interesting difference was noted between bordering countries: Bolivia has more than twice the prevalence of smoking in Peru (24.6% versus 11.2%). Given this scenario, good public policies and interventions should be based on a situation analysis of each country, as they live very different stages of the tobacco epidemic. There is still much room for tobacco control in our continent.


Ng, M., Freeman, M. K., Fleming, T. D., Robinson, M., Dwyer-Lindgren, L., Thomson, B., … & Murray, C. J. (2014). Smoking prevalence and cigarette consumption in 187 countries, 1980-2012. JAMA 311(2), 183-192.