A Billion Lives:

In 20 years’ time, there will be nearly 1.6 billion smokers around the world. Approximately 70% of smokers want to quit.

This figure of 70% is used repeatedly to justify every and any antismoking intervention. Because it is always claimed that the interventions are aimed at “helping” smokers do what they want to do anyway.

But I’m always rather puzzled at the assertion that 70% of smokers want to quit.  In my experience, it’s more like 70% don’t want to quit. In fact, it might even be 95%+ who don’t want to quit. Because those smokers who wanted to quit would have done so a long time ago.

And therein may lie the explanation. In Britain in 1950, something like 80% of adult males smoked. And 60 years later, in 2010, only about 20% of adult males smoke. Assuming a fixed British male population P, the number of smokers in 1950 was 0.8P. And the number of smokers in 2010 was 0.2P. And the ratio of 2010 smokers to 1950 smokers is 0.2P/0.8P, or 0.25 or 25%.

That means that 75% of smokers have given up smoking over the past 60 years. And furthermore, it’s reasonable to say that they gave up smoking because they wanted to. Because up until about 2007, smokers weren’t being forced to stop smoking by draconian legislation.

And this is probably where the curiously persistent 70% figure comes from: it comes from the historical fact that around 70% of adult male British smokers have stopped smoking over the past 60 years. If it differs from my suggested 75%, it’s because slightly different assumptions were made.

But even if it’s historically quite true that 70% of smokers stopped smoking, and did so because they wanted to, that doesn’t mean that 70% of the remaining current smokers also want to stop smoking. If anything, it is more likely that hardly any of them want to stop. Because all those who wanted to stop have already done so.

But I can always ask my smoking readers about their present wishes in this respect:

Maybe they’ll surprise me, and 70% of them will reply that they really do want to stop smoking?

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46 Responses to 70%

  1. Roobeedoo2 says:

    Adult males? What about women smokers?

  2. The 70% is likely created through using a combination of standard political polling tricks. Here’s a posting I made a bit ago over on Junican’s blog that speaks directly to this:

    ” According to ASH ET AL, 75% of smokers agree that tobacco taxes should be increase provided that the increased money was spent on smoking cessation. ”

    A poll can say just about anything the one footing the bill WANTS it to say. Here’s how one major polling group used by the Antis here in the US framed it on their website a few years ago:

    ““Some pollsters simply report on opinions. We use the most sophisticated analytical tools available to understand the motivations of consumers and voters so we can intervene in their decision-making processes to produce the outcomes our clients want.””

    There are just SOOOO many ways to nudge the answers to create what you want.

    What Q’s are asked.
    How they are worded.
    What order they’re in.
    What introduction is given.
    Who the poll is introduced as being for.
    What time of day people are contacted.
    What day of the week is chosen.
    What venue/method (phone/door2door/mallkiosk/MD office) is used
    Whether any form of compensation is offered or hinted at.
    Whether the caller is male or female.
    What geographic area is covered.
    Voting statuses & parties of respondents.
    What the age/income/marriage statuses in that area are.
    What “diversionary topics” (if any) are covered to hide the real one.
    How long the poll is & What position (early/late) the vital Q’s are in.
    Whether you allow “opinion steam-off talkings” between questions.
    How you “guide” respondents stuck between two choices.
    Whether you force choices or allow skipping.
    What accent your callers have.
    How many choices are offered in multiple choice.
    Whether callers generally read the newspaper, or have a computer, or have kids, or live in a flat, or own a car, or like to tipple, or enjoy skinning innocent kitty cats as a hobby.

    I’ve never tried making such a list before, and all the above came out at pretty much my typing speed. Give me a focus group of trained and experienced PR professionals and a week to design the survey, and I could practically have Old Adolph beating out Old Winnie for Prime Minister.

    It’s the same kind of scam as the SCAMMEC (Smoking Claimed Attributable Morbidity, Mortality and Economic Costs) computer program: give me the power to define the formulae and variables and include/exclude confounders and I can prove ANYTHING!


    • Harleyrider1978 says:

      Thanks mike that sums it up perfectly and why nothing can be believed anymore especially statistics.

  3. Frank Davis says:

    That’s all perfectly true, but I think it’s interesting that the 70% figure can be derived without asking any questions at all, and just using changing smoking prevalence over time. And it’ll be interesting to see how many of my smoking readers currently want to stop smoking.

    At the time of writing, half an hour after posting, 10 out of 10 respondents have said that they don’t wish to stop smoking. If the 70% figure was right, it would have been something like 7/10 wanting to stop smoking, and 3/10 wanting to continue.

  4. Harleyrider1978 says:

    Frank in 1965 America had around 60 million smokers today we have just as many. Percentile of population means nothing in the end it’s the actual numbers! So in effect tobacco control has never reduced the number of smokers.

  5. Smoking Lamp says:

    Interesting… They (the antismoker tobacco control racket)claim 70% of smokers want to quit. They also usually use the same 70% figure in their propaganda advocating smoking bans. I suspect they have determined that that 70% claim effectively serves as a tipping point for accepting their manipulation. MJM is right, manipulating surveys is common and survey design does influence outcomes–especially when you don’t have to disclose your survey instrument and media outlets don’t challenge their assertions.

    • jaxthefirst says:

      “I suspect they have determined that that 70% claim effectively serves as a tipping point for accepting their manipulation”

      Dead right, SL. The mysterious 70% figure or thereabouts seems to pop up suspiciously often, so I think that you’re right – the zealots have done their homework and have found that anything which has a “70%” figure attached to it is the most likely figure to convince the readers of whatever garbage they are pumping out. I guess that a figure of 60% is too close to 50/50 to “convince” the casual reader, and a figure of 80% probably stretches the credibility just a little too far – being as it would conflict too much with people’s actual experience (bearing in mind that the name of the game here is creating a false impression of approval/public support/accuracy of opinion or whatever). But 70%, like the baby bear’s porridge in Goldilocks, is “just right.”

      I strongly suspect that we’ll see more of the “magic 70” in the future as more and more of the new prohibitionist groups get wise to this particular ruse. How long, I wonder, will it be before we discover that “70% of adults admit that they drink more than the recommended guidelines each week,” or “70% of people say that they feel unhealthy because they are overweight,” or “70% of people think that a sugar (or salt or fat) tax is a good thing,” or “70% of parents believe that fast-food outlets should be prevented from opening near schools,” or “70% of drivers think that the speed limit in towns should be reduced to 20 mph.” The possibilities are endless! It might vary by a percentage point or two – sometimes it’ll hover around 67-68%, sometimes it’ll be around 72-73% – but it will always be close enough to the “magic 70” for the unthinking press to squeeze it in somehow, either by quietly rounding it up to 70%, or quoting it as “over 70%”

      Hey Frank! Perhaps you could start a little page up, like the Graveyard, whereby anyone who “spots a 70” could enter it up. For the sake of balance, we could also enter up items which, unusually, feature a very different figure from the “magic 70, – it would be quite interesting to try and work out in those instances why they haven’t used this magical number!

      • Frank Davis says:

        Well, we now have a 70% page, to which comments may be added.

        But there are a whole bunch of these numbers, which keep re-appearing like bad pennies. Like 400,000. This seems to be the number of people who die each year of smoking-related diseases in every single country in the world.

  6. waltc says:

    As for the poll (I did it) but I suggest we’re a biased sample to start with, Even a less biased sample might respond differently if the poll taker were thin-lipped and white-coated.

    However, your ad libbed stats got me curious, esp about women smokers since all the older generation women in my extended family smoked. Google gave me this very interesting report on smoking prevalence by sex for 1965-2009 with some earlier stats for the fifties. Read the first few pages of summary and see Table 3

    Click to access tobacco-trend-report.pdf

    US male peak smoking rate (%) was in the 1940s :67%. Female peak in the 1960s: 44% In 1965 males, 51.9%, female, 33%. (This was in the wake of the first surgeon general’s Causes Cancer report of 1964′ and the first wave of mass quitting in America.) I am, however, slightly confused by Table 3 as to which number is millions of people and which is percentage of population but it would seem that from 1955 when 50.1 million Americans smoked, by 2009, 46.6 million did, though the greatest numerical decline was among men. See what the rest of you make of the table and correct my interoretation

    Being admittedly terrible at mathematical concepts, , I nonetheless opine that deriving the 70% by comparing populations over time wouldn’t work since old people die and new ones come of age. IOW, it isn’t a stable population. In any case, I’ve read that the Number comes from polls and surveys

    • Frank Davis says:

      it isn’t a stable population.

      You’re right. But it’s one way of generating a number like 70%.

    • Some French bloke says:

      US male peak smoking rate was in the 1940s: 67%. Female peak in the 1960s: 44% In 1965 males, 51.9%, female, 33%.

      That’s some highly dubious stats you’ve been digging up, Walt! 67 to 52 in men and 44 to 33 in women both translate to a ~23% drop in smoking prevalence, all within a year, or two at most, of the publication of the 1964 Luther Terry report!
      There’s no reason to think that US men smoked significantly less in the early sixties than they did in the forties. And the decline in female smoking has constantly been much slower, leaving a hardcore of “real” 21st century smokers of both sexes, unrecontructed by whatever amount of TC propaganda they’ve been subjected to over the decades, that would seem to hover around the 20% mark.

  7. Lepercolonist says:

    In my small circle of acquaintances, the quitters did not really desire to quit smoking. They would have continued to smoke if it was affordable or if their spouse/family/friends would stop nagging them. They seem to always beg for a cigarette at a party. They still enjoy cigarettes, pathetic.

    • waltc says:

      My experience too. Nagging by family, bans in the workplace and/or restaurants and bars , or threats from their doctors. Onr 30-year quitter –as in quit 30 yrs ago–says she likes bans so she doesn’t get tempted.

  8. pubcurmudgeon says:

    Umm, I’d say it’s more the case that the 70% have passed away and not been replaced by new entrants to the smoking population. Yes, a lot of people will have quit, but inter-generational churn is the main factor.

  9. Timothy Goodacre says:

    Quit ? No way ! Too much pleasure !!!!

  10. mikef317 says:

    Lots of stats on U. S. smoking. Couldn’t find any male / female breakdowns.


    And more. (Some of which duplicate the above? Didn’t check.)

    http://www.gallup.com/topic/smoking.aspx (Note the “load more” button at the bottom.)

    I think of Gallup as firmly in the anti-smoking camp.

  11. Joe Jackson says:

    There’s a difference between WANTING to quit smoking, and being made to feel that you SHOULD. There’s also a difference between what people say when asked questions by pollsters, and what they actually do. I suspect that in the current climate, a lot of people (though I doubt it’s 70%) will say, when prompted, that they think they ought to quit, but that gets ‘fudged’ into ‘they want to quit’. And then they go ahead and smoke anyway. In other words, of course all these polls etc are bollocks. But the propaganda is very effective: if they can’t make you stop smoking, they can at least make you feel as bad as possible about it . . .

  12. Rose says:

    Frank, I was wondering about that 70% myself for a while and I’ve just looked to see when it started, to my surprise I haven’t found anything before 1998.

    I know it’s not terribly scientific but I tried three different phrases

    70 percent of smokers want to give up – 6 results

    15 Mar 2001 – “We know that 70 percent of smokers want to give up,” said public health minister Yvette Cooper,”

    70 percent of smokers want to stop – 3,050 results

    October 26, 1998 Emory Report

    “Nearly 70 percent of smokers want to stop smoking and have tried to do so an average of 5.3 times each, but they clearly do not understand the most effective means of quitting, according to a national survey by the American Lung Association and Yankelovich Partners”
    Emory University Atlanta

    THURSDAY, July 25, 2002 (HealthDayNews)

    “The smoking report will be published in tomorrow’s issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

    The finding that 70 percent of smokers want to stop comes as no surprise to Banzhaf, nor does the fact that a lot of them don’t succeed.”
    http: //consumer.healthday.com/cancer-information-5/smoking-cessation-news-628/stop-smoking-efforts-falling-short-508281.html

    70 percent of smokers want to quit – 2,390 results

    THURSDAY, Nov. 10, 2011 (HealthDay News) — Despite the known dangers of smoking, about 20 percent of Americans still light up, but almost 70 percent want to quit, a new government report shows.

    “This study is reassuring to us,” Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a noon press conference Thursday.
    The report was published in the Nov. 11 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.”

    The CDC is releasing the report as part of the annual Great American Smokeout on Nov. 17. The event is sponsored by the American Cancer Society, and encourages smokers to make a plan to quit, or quit smoking that day.”
    http: //consumer.healthday.com/kids-health-information-23/misc-kid-s-health-news-435/most-smokers-want-to-quit-cdc-report-finds-658826.html

    The earliest is by the American Lung Association

    The CDC has apparently published the same press release twice in 9 years but changing the “stop” to “quit”

    I think it some sort of kind of mantra that soothes the consciences of activists and politicians and demoralises smokers who feel that if they don’t want to give up they are in the minority.
    The 70% is used all round the world.

    ASH Poll on the smoking ban in enclosed public spaces

    “Asked whether they support the Committee’s proposal 70% of those polled said yes, with only 18% saying they were opposed”

    ASH Director Deborah Arnott commented:

    “The message to MPs could not be clearer. The public wants smokefree legislation. They want it in England, just as they do in Scotland, Wales and in Northern Ireland. We are delighted that the Health Select Committee has led the way on this important issue and we are increasingly optimistic that comprehensive smokefree legislation will get a big majority in the free vote.”

    “… several years later he (Tony Blair) agonised about the smoking ban in public places and finally justified the move by suggesting: “The public gave us permission to introduce the ban.”

    • Frank Davis says:

      I did a bit of my own digging using just “smokers want to quit”:


      Surveys consistently find that a majority of smokers want to quit.13,14,15 In 2008, 68% of current
      smokers in Great Britain reported that they wanted to quit, with 22% saying they would very
      much like to give up and a further 23% saying they wanted to stop “quite a lot”.15 Eighty-three
      per cent of respondents gave at least one health reason for wanting to stop smoking. The cost
      of smoking was the next most common reason people gave for wanting to quit with 31% saying
      smoking was too expensive and a waste of money.


      In 2010, NHIS respondents also were administered a supplemental questionnaire that focused on cancer and its risk factors and contained questions on interest in quitting smoking, receipt of a health professional’s advice to quit, and use of cessation counseling and medication. Interest among current smokers in quitting smoking was determined by a “yes” response to the question, “Would you like to completely stop smoking cigarettes?” Current smokers and those who had quit in the past year were asked whether they had received medical advice to quit smoking (or quit using other tobacco products) if they had seen a health professional in the past year. Separate questions were asked to assess use of cessation counseling (i.e., one-on-one counseling; a stop smoking clinic, class, or support group; or a telephone help line or quitline) and cessation medications (i.e., nicotine patch, nicotine gum or lozenge, nicotine-containing nasal spray or inhaler, varenicline [U.S. trade name Chantix] or bupropion [including trade names Zyban and Wellbutrin]). Responses to these questions were used to assess treatments used in the past 12 months by current smokers who had tried to quit in the past year and treatments used when they stopped smoking by former smokers who had quit in the past 2 years. All data were adjusted for nonresponse and weighted to provide national estimates; 95% confidence intervals were calculated using statistical analysis software to account for the survey’s multistage probability sample design. Logistic regression was used to analyze temporal changes in quit attempts by age group during 2001–2010. These 10-year linear trend analyses were constructed using 2001 prevalences as the baseline, adjusted for sex and race/ethnicity. The Wald test was used to determine statistical significance (defined as p<0.05). Data also were tested for quadratic trends, which indicated a statistically significant but nonlinear trend in the data over time.
      Overall, 68.8% of current smokers indicated they wanted to stop smoking completely (Table 1).

      “Would you like to completely stop smoking cigarettes?” seems to me to be a slightly different question than “Do you want to stop smoking?”. The first question could be construed to mean “Would you like to wake up one day and find that you’d somehow or other magically stopped smoking?” while the second question suggests an active wish, and a preparedness to do something about it, along the lines of “Are you really determined to stop smoking?” It’s a bit like asking someone whether they’d like to win the lottery (no effort needed) or whether they’re prepared to work hard to become very rich (enormous effort needed). The answer to the first question is almost certainly Yes, and to the second question most likely No.

      And it’s not 70%. It’s 68%. Or 68.8%. Always. Every time.

    • Frank Davis says:

      A bit more digging

      Most current smokers in the U.S. would like to give up smoking. Perhaps as a testimony to their desire to quit, 85% of smokers say they have in fact tried to quit at least once in their lifetime, including 45% who have tried at least three times.

  13. prog says:

    The 70% figure is old hat. Surely, given all the shit they’ve doled out in the intervening years they could revise that to at least 80%. On the other hand, vaping rates have increased over the same periods. Presumably many, if not most, were part of the 70%. Given this and the slight decrease of overall smoking rate (still stubbornly remaining about 20%), the actual number of people wanting to quit should be lower. But 700,000 sounds better than say 5 – 600,000.

    Anyway, many don’t quit for health reasons so ASH can’t claim these.

  14. Fredrik Eich says:

    They get their 70% by giving far more quit questions than the just one no quit option.

    19973 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 20074 20075 2008/095

    Total would like to give up 71 72 71 72 70 70 73 72 72 73 74 67
    Very much indeed .. 30 30 28 26 24 28 27 23 26 25 22
    Quite a lot .. 21 20 22 23 22 24 23 27 24 24 23
    A fair amount .. 14 16 15 14 17 14 15 15 14 14 16
    A little .. 7 6 7 8 7 7 7 7 9 11 6
    Would not like to give up 29 28 29 28 30 30 27 28 28 27 26 33

    source http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB14988/stat-smok-eng-2014-tab.xls
    see Chapter 3 table 3.3

    Frank: see also https://cfrankdavis.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/uk-smokers_quit.jpg

  15. Rose says:

    “The public gave us permission to introduce the ban.” T. Blair

    Public oppose pub smoking ban
    2 July, 2007

    “Only half of people in England think the ban on smoking in pubs, which came into effect yesterday, is a good idea, a survey shows.

    The annual British Social Attitudes survey, conducted by the National Center for Social Research, has found that 49% of its respondents believe people should be allowed to smoke freely in pubs or at least in designated smoking areas.

    Banning smoking in restaurants and the workplace is more popular, with 73% and 60% of respondents in favour, respectively.”

    Researcher Mark Johnson comments:
    That only half of the public support the ban on smoking in pubs will not be good news for the government ahead of Sunday’s introduction.

    Even worse, is that it is less popular among their traditional working class constituency.

    He adds: “No doubt the government will be hoping that once the ban has been introduced, public opinion will swing around in favour”

  16. Frank Davis says:


    “I do enjoy an occasional cigar.”

  17. Clicky says:

  18. junican says:

    First preference, second preference.

    “Would you like to lose weight?”
    Will you go on a diet?”
    “Erm …… Maybe next week. I have a birthday bash coming up”

  19. Pingback: All Things Considered | Frank Davis

  20. Deckard says:

    Un saludo a todos.Hola Frank, es cierto, aquí en España también la Ministra de Sanidad usó la cifra del 70% a favor de la prohibición, pero cualquiera podía ver en la calle que eso no era cierto.

  21. Pingback: Unbelievable | Frank Davis

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