Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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1000 a year

460 words

While this is quite obvious once you think about it, the sheer number is still impressive: on average, there are around a thousand cigarettes made per year for every single person on the planet. Huge number, holy friggin’ shit. That’s 6 trillion (as you say in English and as mindless German journalists will wrongly copy this to German) cigarettes a year. 6 ·1012 or, more impressively, 6 000 000 000 000, a number that defies imagination.

If we built a pole from these, assuming a 10cm length, it would be around 600 million kilometres long. That’s about four times the distance from Earth to the sun, meaning we could go to the sun and back twice and still have a few smokes on the way. That sounds impressive but these are still such huge distances that it’s hard to really visualise or imagine them. Perhaps a planet walk can help understand this, but the sheer scale of it remains hard to comprehend.

Cover Art Another attempt to get an impression of this could be to stack the cigarettes in a triangle. To fit 6 trillion cigarettes in one of those we need to start with around 3,5 million cigarettes placed next to each other on the bottom-most row and have 3,5 million levels stacked on one another. With a 8mm diametre we’d end up with a triangular mountain of cigarettes which is 28km wide and more than 24km high. Still not exactly easy to imagine but at least using lengths we are familiar with.

Finally, at just 1,2g per cigarette, this mountain weighs more than seven million tons – about the mass of 14 World Trade Centre towers or almost the mass of the concrete they used to build Hoover Dam. And while smoking itself should be neutral as far as CO2 emissions are concerned, it is said that huge scale tobacco farming attaches quite significant CO2 emissions to each cigarette. I couldn’t find any real data on that, though.

As all states in Germany introduced smoking bans for bars, clubs and restaurants now (only separate dedicated smoking areas are allowed), we hear a whole new round of commentary on the topic. Reactions span everything from overzealous happiness by militant non-smokers to equally undesirable claims that anything less than all-smokes-all-the-time policies is borderline fascist (or so). Most of the people, though, might just enjoy not being completely smelly when coming back from the pub and possibly even thinking that the new rules make them smoke less. The most optimistic smokers even say that limiting their ability to smoke makes doing so more special and actually returns the activity from a bad habit back to conscious substance enjoyment. Which is probably the type of drug usage everyone should aspire to.

January 2, 2008, 15:28


Comment by Will Robertson: User icon

That’s a damn lot of cigarettes. I’d be interested in seeing the trends over time. It’s got to be decreasing, right? And faster?

It’s interesting (to me) that many countries seem to be instigating this “non public indoor smoking” law at around the same time. We just got it in Australia — well, depending which state you live in. It’s, um, like a breath of fresh air. (sigh. bad joke.)

It also goes one more step towards a complete ban on smoking (at a very slow pace, of course). Which makes the laws much more consistent w.r.t. marijuana smoking. I’m not fussed either way about the smoking of either or legalities, but the inconsistency irks me a little. On the other hand, I’ve seen what years of dope smoking can do to you and I can’t say it has a negligible long term effect on people’s thinking. (Or maybe you return to normal after a while off the drug. Hmm, don’t know.)

Also: “limiting their ability to smoke makes doing so more special and actually returns the activity from a bad habit back to conscious substance enjoyment” — great line!

January 2, 2008, 17:48

Comment by ssp: User icon

The WHO have a nice graphic – part of this interesting book – on world-wide consumption trends. But it only seems to have data up to 2000. According to that we had a rise of cigarette consumption up to 1990 and kept a steady level since. Probably because the reductions we see as a consequence of taxing and health concerns in rich countries are made up for by the growth of consumption in poor countries which start to grow economically. The projections they make indicate a long term rise of the world wide tobacco consumption.

Once you start thinking about smoking and how much it is as much a health risk for the user as it is a business opportunity for corporations, things start looking rather macabre. It’s certainly a field in which you have enough users to run studies and statistics which don’t suffer from a small number of samples. In this text they even try to plot a pattern for how tobacco consumption develops in countries and how it affects men/women and their respective death rates over time.

January 2, 2008, 19:04

Comment by Will Robertson: User icon

I agree about the transition from rich countries giving up and poor countries taking up the slack. I do wonder about the effect of taxes on consumption. According to that map Australia smokes per capita in the same order of magnitude as most of the European countries, but the tax rate for cigarettes here is much greater (or, at least, used to be).

Similarly, alcohol is very very expensive to buy on the shelf in Aust because of tax but I’d be surprised if we drank any less because of it :)

Interesting stuff. Thanks for the links.

January 4, 2008, 5:53

Comment by ssp: User icon

I am split about the tax rate. It only seems to contribute very little. When living in England with cigarette and alcohol prices higher than in Germany I had the impression that people tended to smoke less but drink much more excessively. Unfortunately I only spent a few days in Norway (country of the €7 beer), so I couldn’t really judge how prices affect people there. But my short visit didn’t suggest that it made them stay sober…

January 4, 2008, 9:44

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