Methodological Notes – Health Behaviour Module

Updated: January 2019

Concepts and Definitions

It is well established that some personal behaviours or lifestyles are associated with the development of certain diseases and health problems. Of particular importance are such behaviours as smoking, diet, alcohol and drug use, physical activity, sexual behaviour, and safety practices. The modification of such behaviours has become the core activity of health promotion programs.

Monitoring such behaviours usually requires surveys based on interviews with respondents who are asked specific questions. Despite the existence of numerous health interview surveys in all the developed countries, international standardization is rare. Only one behaviour is included in CircHOB for the time being – smoking. Smoking is among the most important health determinants or risk factors, and it is basic information collected by most health surveys. Even so, there is considerable inconsistency in how smoking is measured and categorized.

On the basis of a set of questions, individuals can be categorized into never smokers, former smokers, and current smokers. Among the last group, it can be further divided into those who smoke daily and those only irregularly, or occasionally. The prevalence of daily smoking among adults are more comparable across countries and surveys, although there are still significant differences, and caution is needed when interpreting the data.

Although cigarettes are the most widely used vehicles in delivering tobacco, other forms such as pipes, cigars and smokeless tobacco are also used. Although it is not always explicitly stated in survey reports, it is cigarette smoking that is usually asked and recorded.

In addition to frequency, estimates of the duration of use and the amount consumed per day can also be derived from surveys. Increasingly issues such as ages of initiation and cessation, attempt at quitting, attitudes towards smoking, knowledge of its health effects, and exposure to passive smoking at home and at work are also part of smoking surveys.

Data Sources and Limitations

CircHOB presents the proportion of daily smokers in the adult population, separately for men and women. The lower limit of “adult” differs – 15, 16, 18, etc. Some surveys have no upper age limits, while other surveys are truncated at 75 or even 65. In the case of annual surveys, data are pooled averaged into 5-year periods. Where surveys are conducted less frequently, data from a year close to the midpoint of each period are presented. The upper age limit is set to be as close to 75 as possible, to achieve comparability of the “adult” rate. Where available, “youth” smoking prevalence (age group 15-24) is also presented.

National smoking prevalence data are available from OECD Health > Non-medical determinants of health > Tobacco consumption. Regional data are obtained from national surveys.

United States

For the United States nationally, data are as reported by OECD, based on annual results of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). Daily smokers are defined as current smokers who have smoked 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and still smoke everyday. The age range is 18 and above. The NHIS is a major national survey of a representative sample of the U.S. civilian, noninstitutionalized household population.

Alaska data are from analyses of downloaded datasets from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. BRFSS is an annual telephone survey conducted by the CDC and state health departments Survey data and documentation > Annual survey data


Canadian national and territorial data are based on special analyses of Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS). Although the surveys covered ages 12 and above, only data from individuals aged 15 and above are presented. For the 2000-04 period, data are pooled from cycles 2000/01, 2003 and 2005; the 2005-09 data are pooled from cycles 2007, 2008, and 2009; and the 2010-14 period from the 5 annual cycles.


Data on smoking habits are available from 3 waves of health surveys among Indigenous Greenlanders conducted by the National Institute of Public Health during 1999-2002 in West Greenland, and in 2005-09 and 2014, covering the whole of Greenland.

Faroe Islands

Data for Faroes Islands are available for all adults aged 15+, as reported by NOMESCO in the annual publication Health Statistics in Nordic Countries


Data are as reported in OECD, based on surveys conducted for the Public Health Institute and the Directorate of Health.


The source is OECD, based on polling firm data conducted for the Danish Council on Smoking and Health. Lower age limit is 16.


Norwegian national and regional data can be accessed from the Norgeshelsa website Norhealth > Living habits > Smoking and snus use. Age range is 16-74.


National and regional data for 2000-09 are based on the annual Survey of Living Conditions (Undersökningarna av levnadsförhållanden, or ULF) conducted annually among adults aged 16-84. The data shown in CircHOB are by special request to Statistics Sweden for custom tabulation. 2010-14 data are from the National Public Health Survey by the Public Health Agency of Sweden Nationalle folkhälsoenkäten > Levnadsvanor > Tobak


Data for 2000-09 are from the published reports of the annual survey Health Behaviour and Health among Finnish Adult Population (Suomalaisen aikuisväestön terveyskäyttäytyminen ja terveys, or AVTK), conducted by the National Institute of Health and Welfare.

Data are available only for a combined northern region. Daily smokers are defined as individuals who have ever smoked at least 100 times, who have ever smoked daily, and who last smoked either today or yesterday. This survey only covers the age group 15-64. For the elderly aged 65-84, there is a separate survey. However, the two surveys cannot be combined to produce an “adult” population that is comparable to the other countries. Also, separate data for the North are not reported in the survey on the elderly.

From 2013 on, smoking prevalence data (age 20+) from the National FinSote Survey are available in Sotkanet, Alcohol, tobacco and addiction > Smoking and use of snuff > Daily smokers (Indicator # 4404).

Russian data are available from OECD only at the national level. For the 2000-04 period, data are from WHO European Office Health for All database.

For the 2005-09 period, data from the Russia country report from the 2009 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) are used. Several northern regions were sampled: Arkhangelsk Oblast, Komi Republic, Taymyr AO, and Evenkia AO but separate regional data were not reported.

No data are available for 2010-14. A new GATS was completed in 2016 with data on Russia.