Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)

World No Tobacco Day, 31 May 2010

Protect women from tobacco marketing and smoke

The tobacco industry constantly and aggressively seeks new users to replace the ones who quit and the current users – up to half – who will die prematurely from cancer, heart attack, stroke, emphysema or other tobacco-related disease.

Among the industry's many targets of opportunity, women constitute one of the biggest. That's because fewer women than men smoke or chew tobacco. Only about 9% of women smoke, compared with 40% of men. Of the world's over 1 billion smokers, only about 200 million are women.

With women, the industry simply has more room to expand.

While the epidemic of tobacco use among men is in slow decline in some countries, use among women in some countries is increasing.

The future character of the global tobacco epidemic among women can be seen in the habits of girls today. In half of the 151 countries surveyed for trends in smoking among young people, roughly as many girls smoked cigarettes as boys. In some countries, more girls smoked than boys. Teenagers who smoke are likely to become regular smokers in adulthood.

Of the over five million people who die each year from tobacco use, approximately 1.5 million are women. Unless urgent action is taken, tobacco use could kill more than eight million people by 2030, of whom 2.5 million would be women. Approximately three-quarters of these female deaths would occur in the low-income and middle-income countries that are least able to absorb such losses. Every one of these premature deaths would have been avoidable.

In some countries, the bigger threat to women is from exposure to the smoke of others, particularly men. For example, in China, where one-third of the world’s adult smokers live, the tobacco epidemic is almost entirely a male phenomenon. Less than 3% of women in China smoke. Yet more than half of Chinese women of reproductive age are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke. Worldwide, of the approximately 430 000 adult deaths caused every year by second-hand smoke, about 64% occur in women.

World No Tobacco Day 2010 focuses on the harm which tobacco marketing and smoke do to women. At the same time, it seeks to make men more aware of their responsibility to avoid smoking around the women with whom they live and work.

Women, and men, must be protected from tobacco industry marketing and smoke, as stated in the preamble to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. In effect since 2005, this international treaty acknowledges "the increase in smoking and other forms of tobacco consumption by women and young girls worldwide" and explicitly recognizes "the need for gender-specific tobacco control strategies".

Unfortunately, less than 9% of the world's population is covered by comprehensive advertising bans. Only 5.4% is covered by comprehensive national smoke-free laws.

Controlling the epidemic of tobacco among women is an important part of any tobacco control strategy. As WHO Director-General Margaret Chan has said, "Protecting and promoting the health of women is crucial to health and development – not only for the citizens of today but also for those of future generations".

Now is the time to act.

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