WHO urges countries to protect women from tobacco

PR 1505

Tobacco kills over five million people each year including approximately 1.5 million 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 low-income and middle-income countries.

On World No Tobacco Day, WHO will focus on the harm to women’s health caused by tobacco. The organization seeks to make men more aware of their responsibility to avoid smoking around the women and children with whom they live and work.

“Controlling the epidemic of tobacco among women is an important part of WHO’s tobacco control strategy”, said Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia. He called on policy-makers to implement a complete ban on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship of smoking and smokeless tobacco products, as called for in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Women constitute one of the biggest target groups for the tobacco industry. As women gain spending power, tobacco companies are increasingly targeting them through active marketing campaigns. As a result, the epidemic of tobacco use among women is increasing.

Advertisements falsely link tobacco use with female beauty, empowerment and health. Advertisements lure women with such misleading identifiers as "light" or "low-tar", implying that such produces are less deadly. More women than men smoke "light" cigarettes. Due to such aggressive and misleading marketing, as well as ignorance and misconceptions about the dangers of tobacco use, the prevalence of tobacco use (in particular, use of smokeless tobacco) is high among women in the Region.

The health costs of tobacco use for women are huge. Women who smoke are more likely to experience infertility and delays in conceiving. Maternal smoking during pregnancy increases the risks of premature delivery, stillbirth and newborn death, and may cause a reduction in breast milk. Women who smoke are at increased risk of developing potentially fatal chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Smoking increases the risk of cancer in women, including cancers of the mouth, pharynx, oesophagus, larynx, bladder, pancreas, kidneys and cervix, as well as for acute myeloid leukaemia. There is a possible link between active smoking and premenopausal breast cancer. Evidence suggests that smokeless tobacco use among women is a health risk to them and to the fetus.

Of the more than 600 000 deaths caused worldwide every year by second-hand smoke, 64% occur in women. Nearly 40% of boys and girls aged 13-15 years are exposed to second-hand smoke in public places in the Region.

There is an urgent need for a structured and comprehensive tobacco control strategy that deals with tobacco use by women. But at present, Member States have fragmented policies and programmes for tobacco control among women. Many tobacco control strategies ignore women who chew tobacco, for example.

This year on World No Tobacco day, WHO is extending its assistance to Member States to help them address the neglected issue of tobacco and women’s health. WHO will work with Member States to provide policies that combat the tobacco industry’s targeting for women, while also educating women about the grave danger of smoking to themselves and their families.

For more information contact:

Ms Vismita Gupta-Smith
Public Information and Advocacy Officer
WHO South-East Asia Regional Office (SEARO)
New Delhi
Tel: 91-11-23309401
Mobile: +91 9871329861