Smoke-filled bars and packed cancer wards reflect decades of neglect of no-smoking policies in Asia, where both high- and low-income countries are belatedly waking up to a growing tobacco-related health epidemic.

Researchers say inadequate public awareness of smoking risks, coupled with aggressive tobacco marketing, has left Asian nations with some of the highest smoking rates in the world at a time when sustained anti-smoking campaigns have lowered rates in the US and parts of Europe.

Roughly 60 percent of the world’s population lives in Asia, where “tobacco control programmes are less well-developed, particularly in low- and middle-income countries like China and India”, said a major regional study published April in PLOS Medicine.

In developed countries like Japan and South Korea, it is only recently that the authorities have made genuine moves to cut smoking rates that were once as high as 85 percent among adult males.