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Mathematicians Explain Why Social Epidemics Spread Faster in Some Countries Than Others

Health, Psychology, Technology, data

In January 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health published a landmark report warning of the serious health effects of tobacco. It was not the first such report but it is probably the most famous because it kick-started a global campaign to reduce the levels of smoking and the deaths it causes.

In the 50 years since then, the patterns of smoking all over the world have changed dramatically. In the U.S., the numbers of smokers peaked in 1965 and have fallen precipitously since then. Similar patterns have occurred in all industrialized countries.

But here’s a curious thing. While the general pattern of smoking has been similar—an increase in numbers followed by a decrease—the rate of change has been dramatically different from one country to another. In other words, some countries adopted smoking more quickly and stopped smoking more quickly than others.

That raises an important question. How is smoking behavior transmitted through a population and why does it differ from one country to another?

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