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Objective: To examine whether trends in smoking behaviour in Western Europe between 1985 and 2000 differed by education group.
Design: Data of smoking behaviour and education level were obtained from national cross sectional surveys conducted between 1985 and 2000 (a period characterised by intense tobacco control policies) and analysed for countries combined and each country separately. Annual trends in smoking prevalence and the quantity of cigarettes consumed by smokers were summarised for each education level. Education inequalities in smoking were examined at four time points.
Setting: Data were obtained from nine European countries: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and Spain.
Participants: 451 386 non-institutionalised men and women 25–79 years old.
Main outcome measures: Smoking status, daily quantity of cigarettes consumed by smokers.
Results: Combined country analyses showed greater declines in smoking and tobacco consumption among tertiary educated men and women compared with their less educated counterparts. In country specific analyses, elementary educated British men and women, and elementary educated Italian men showed greater declines in smoking than their more educated counterparts. Among Swedish, Finnish, Danish, German, Italian, and Spanish women, greater declines were seen among more educated groups.
Conclusions: Widening education inequalities in smoking related diseases may be seen in several European countries in the future. More insight into effective strategies specifically targeting the smoking behaviour of low educated groups may be gained from examining the tobacco control policies of the UK and Italy over this period.