Will Cigarettes Disappear By 2050?

(Image credit: sxc.hu)

It's hard to fathom, but widespread cigarette use could be snuffed out by 2050, according to a recent report by Citigroup analysts.

Both cultural and economic factors will drive cigarettes' extinction, according to the report, which was based on smoking trends and cigarette pricing over the past 50 years. As medical studies have revealed the negative health impacts of smoking and, subsequently, many public venues have banned smoking, smoking rates have steadily dropped in the past 50 years.

In Britain, for example, more than half the population smoked in 1960; by 2008, that number was down to around 20 percent. Those numbers echo the state of smoking in other developed nations, including here in the U.S.: Currently, only one in five Americans lights up, down from almost one in four a decade ago, according to the report.

Here are the three ways that Citigroup predicts smoking rates to play out across the world in the distant future:

"Scenario A just extends the existing trend line until it hits zero. In Scenario B gradually fewer people quit, as we approach some sort of hard core of smokers, but in Scenario C smoking gets to a tipping point, as it becomes increasingly unacceptable and hence easier to regulate against. Possibly it may be (eventually) banned."

At some point, Citigroup notes, the major tobacco-smoking markets will come close to drying up. For now, raising the price per pack has kept companies' profit growth strong amid the decline in smokers, but eventually there could be too few smokers for even that trick to work and tobacco companies could quit the business. In most developed nations, Citigroup expects the sale of cigarettes to fall off by 2050, but a few countries could take a few decades longer.

Got a question? Send us an email and we'll look for an expert who can crack it.

Follow Bjorn Carey on Twitter @thebjorncarey

Bjorn Carey is the science information officer at Stanford University. He has written and edited for various news outlets, including Live Science's Life's Little Mysteries, Space.com and Popular Science. When it comes to reporting on and explaining wacky science and weird news, Bjorn is your guy. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his beautiful son and wife.