For the cigar industry, the past fifteen years has been the best of times - and the worst of times.
On the one hand, the 1990s saw the renaissance of cigar smoking in the United States after decades in which competition from cigars, an aging customer base of cigar aficionados, and lack of interest in cigars among younger smokers all took their toll on the industry. This trend suddenly, inexplicably reversed itself in the fourth quarter of 1992, and by 1996, the industry was seeing 36 percent first-quarter growth.
But what ironic timing! The Clinton years also saw a high-profile class-action suit against cigarette companies, controversies over cigarette advertising to minors, and a general decline in the number of new tobacco users. More importantly, those who did continue to smoke, or who took up the habit for the first time, found themselves with a vanishing habitat. More and more businesses, towns, even entire states imposed restrictions on smoking.
That trend has continued, and Europe's getting in on the act. England recently enacted a far-reaching smoking ban that some anti-smoking activists consider a model for future efforts in this country (though some consider that it infringes too far on civil liberties). In any case, you might be wondering, if you're a cigar aficionado, whether there are other places you could visit where your cigar indulgence is, well, a little more widely understood.
You're in luck - maybe. The United States, according to the Penguin State of the World Atlas, counts twenty-four percent of its adult population as tobacco users. There are plenty of other countries where that number is significantly higher.
You could start with Western Europe. Even the United Kingdom, with that strict smoking ban, has a slightly higher rate of adult tobacco users (just over twenty-six percent), while in Germany, Hungary and France, respectively, thirty-five, thirty-five and thirty-four percent of adults use tobacco in some form. (Apparently, all those French movie characters weren't just using their little Gaulouises for emphasis.) The Netherlands, Spain, Luxembourg, and Switzerland lag just behind, with around thirty-three percent, ahead of thirty-one percenters Ireland and Norway, while the rest of Western Europe is at thirty percent or below.
Go a little further East, and things get even more promising. In Greece thirty-eight percent of adults will potentially be willing to join you for your after-dinner stogie (if you ask nicely anyway), as will thirty-six percent of adult Macedonians, thirty-four percent of adult Poles. More impressively, so will forty-two percent of Slovakians and a whopping forty-three percent of Romanians. Turkey isn't officially part of Europe (due to a recent EU decision), but forty-four percent of its adults use tobacco.
Smoking is popular in Russia and former Soviet client states: thirty-nine percent of Albanians, thirty-seven percent of Georgians and Kyrgyzstanis, thirty-six percent of Russians and Bulgarians, thirty-five percent of Ukrainians, thirty-two percent of Estonians, thirty-one percent of Latvians, Meanwhile, Bosnia-Herzogovina and Yugoslavia have some of the highest tobacco-use rates in the world, at forty-seven and forty-eight percent respectively. Thirty-three percent of Kazakhstan's citizens smoke, but for goodness sake, they don't want to see your Borat imitation.
Parts of the Middle East are friendly - well, to smoking, anyway. Forty-four percent of Yemenis smoke, as do forty percent of adults in Lebanon and thirty-seven percent of adults in Benin. Other parts of the region would prefer you keep it unlit, please - Lybia, with four percent, has the lowest smoking rates in the world, just ahead of Senegal (just over four and a half percent), Haiti and the United Arab Emirates (nine percent and change).
Even farther east, you might find some sympathetic souls in Mongolia (forty-seven percent), Laos (thirty-eight percent), Cambodia (thirty-seven percent), South Korea (thirty-five percent), and Japan (thirty-three percent). Going south a bit, we find thirty-eight percent of adult Bangladeshis and Nepalese using tobacco. Over by Indonesia (thirty-one percent), there's Papua New Guinea (thirty-seven percent). You might also try spending some time in Namibia (fifty percent), Kenya (forty-nine percent), Cameroon (thirty-five percent), Tunisia and Uganda (thirty-four percent).
Or stay in this hemisphere, but go south - to the region where much of the world's best tobacco is grown. Try Venezuela or Cuba - all those pictures of Chavez and Castro chomping cigars together aren't just about image, as the countries have forty and thirty-seven percent adult smokers respectively. Argentina (forty percent), Panama (thirty-eight percent), Mexico (thirty-four percent), and Brazil (thirty-three percent) also offer potential smokers' paradises.
By now you're probably wondering who has the highest smoking rates in the world. That would be Guinea, with fifty-one percent of its adults using tobacco. You might want to go book that ticket - especially if you can find an airline that'll let you smoke.
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