The top four countries in the world for smoking prevalence (the percentage of the adult population that smokes) are all in Eastern Europe – Georgia, Russia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Bulgaria. The top five would have still been exclusively East European in 2013 but data shows that Indonesia just overtook Macedonia in 2012. Generally, there is a pattern of high prevalence across the emerging markets of Eastern Europe and Latin America which suggests that ashtrays and lighters should remain as standard equipment in cars sold in these regions for the foreseeable future.
However, many markets around the world are experiencing large declines in smoking prevalence. In part, this can be attributed to the ‘denormalisation’ of smoking that discourages people from taking up the habit. But equally there are those who successfully quit smoking, which in turn releases significant disposable income for many consumers which could alternatively be used to finance a new car purchase.
Top Ten Countries with the Largest Declines in Smoking Prevalence Between 2003 and 2013
Source: Euromonitor International
The reasons for shrinking smoking prevalence are many, from price hikes to regulation such as public smoking bans. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that the many consumers who
actively quit suddenly have extra income which car makers can compete for.
For example, a smoker in the UK who buys a pack of twenty cigarettes a day spends approximately £200 per month to satisfy their nicotine craving. If that person was to quit smoking, they would be in a position to buy a brand new car with repayment of £199 per month and have change left over. In the case of the UK, smoking prevalence has dropped from 25% in 2003 to 19% in 2013 and even though the population has grown, this means that there are 2.2 million fewer smokers now than a decade ago. (It is of course coincidence, but there’s an interesting symmetry that this is the number of cars that are expected to be sold in the UK in 2013). By 2017, Euromonitor forecasts there will be a further half a million fewer smokers.
Given this, the question arises as to whether car companies could be actively encouraging smokers to quit, with a new car as an incentive. It’s not difficult to imagine an advert that shows an old car with ashtrays full to the brim being exchanged for a new one by a proud former smoker. In fact, could car companies even go so far as to offer e-cigarettes for a period of time, such as a year, along with the new vehicle?
Although this would not be an option in all markets because of how e-cigarettes are classified, tobacco companies themselves are now looking to offer electronic cigarettes and so this could connect car and tobacco companies… again. In further symmetry, it’s intriguing that there was once a world famous tie-up between John Player Special and Lotus.
Now, in the 21st century, it’s US electronic cigarette brand Blu sponsoring Indy car racing.