Mark D. Roberts

Part 4 of series: European Reflections 2006
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In my last post I noted that Europeans, in general, smoke more than Americans, in general. (Only the Swedes smoke less than Americans.) Plus, much of European smoking occurs in public places, even though many countries have laws limiting such activity, just as in the U.S. I was pleasantly surprised, for example, to find a snack bar/pub in the Nice airport that was designated no smoking, and nobody was smoking there. (Photo to the right: A sign in a cafe in the airport in Nice, France)
I wonder why Europeans smoke more than Americans. My puzzlement is increased by the fact that Europeans tend to be more health conscious than Americans. For example, the obesity rate for the U.S. is about three times that of Europe (see David M. Cutler and Edward L. Glaeser, Why Do Europeans Smoke More Than Americans?, Figure 2; you can download a PDF here). Moreover, Europeans are usually more liberal than Americans, and in my experience, liberals are more apt than conservatives to restrict smoking and to demonize smokers. So, given Europe’s health consciousness and liberalism, I would expect less smoking in Europe, not more. Thus my wonderment: Why do Europeans smoke more than Americans?
If you have any pet theories of your own, I’d love to hear them. Please add them to the comments section of this blog entry. Meanwhile, I’ll report in on three of my own ideas.
Reason #1: Europeans Smoke More Because They’re Less Aware of the Health Risks Associated with Smoking
Reason #1 is not my own. It’s the conclusion of a recent study by two researchers, David M. Cutler and Edward L. Glaeser. According to Cutler and Glaeser, Europeans do indeed smoke more than Americans, a fact that is made even more surprising by the higher price of cigarettes in Europe and the larger number of anti-smoking regulations. So what accounts for this unexpected difference? “Almost one-half of the smoking difference appears to be the result of differences in beliefs about the health effects of smoking; Europeans are generally less likely to think that cigarette smoking is harmful.”
Of course Europeans have access to the same information about the dangers of smoking that Americans do. But, according to Cutler and Glaeser, anti-smoking activism is much more prevalent in the U.S. than in Europe. While staying with some friends in France, we confirmed this observation. Their four children, who were educated in French schools, heard very little about the health risks associated with smoking. By contrast, my children began learning about such things in kindergarten, and it was emphasized year after year. I remember my kindergarten-aged daughter talking as if all smokers were sure to drop dead in a moment. (As a non-smoker, I didn’t mind my daughter’s bias. But it did seem like the school was exaggerating just a bit.)
In my next post in this series I’ll put up two additional reason why, in my opinion, Europeans smoke more than Americans.

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