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WHO warning: The tobacco industry is targeting women. World No Tobacco Day 31 May 2010

Manila, 31 May 2010 – The World Health Organization (WHO) today called on countries to protect women and girls from efforts by the tobacco industry to induce them to start smoking.  Governments need to undertake bold measures to counter constant and aggressive targeting of females as a new market to replace those people in the West who quit or die prematurely from cancer, heart disease and strokes, WHO said.


Dr Shin Young‑soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, warned that smoking and chewing of tobacco among women and girls is increasing in Asia and the Pacific.  It is estimated that more than 8% of girls between 13 and 15 years of age, or around 4.5 million girls, are using tobacco products.   "Starting early results in addiction that later translates to a life of nicotine dependence, poor health and premature death," he said. 

Dr Shin said comprehensive bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship are needed to protect women and girls from deceptive messages that portray smoking as glamorous or fashionable. The truth is, smoking is ugly and harmful to health. Currently, only half of the countries in the Western Pacific have complete bans on advertising.  


Dr Shin warned that smokers should not be tricked into believing that cigarettes that are labelled as "lite/light", "mild" or "slim" are safer or less harmful. "Misleading cigarette descriptors are meant to conceal the fact that all cigarettes contain 4000 hazardous chemicals and 60 known carcinogens.  No cigarette is safe or less harmful," Dr Shin said.


Close to half of all women in the Western Pacific Region are exposed to second‑hand smoke in their homes or in the workplace.  Second‑hand smoke has been classified as a carcinogen in several countries and is known to cause lung cancer, heart disease and respiratory conditions. 


Yet, women and girls are sometimes forced to endure second‑hand smoke because of cultural and social norms.  For example, in China, 97% of smokers are men—and more than half of all Chinese women of reproductive age are regularly exposed to second‑hand smoke. 

A study in Shanghai of 72,000 non-smoking women found that exposure to their husbands' smoking increased these women's risks of dying from lung cancer and heart disease by almost 40%. The women also had a nearly 50% higher risk of stroke.


Worldwide, of more than 600 000 deaths caused every year by second‑hand smoke, 64% occur among women.


The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control calls for gender‑specific tobacco control strategies and the full participation of women in tobacco control measures.  


Meanwhile, Dr Shin announced the World No Tobacco Day 2010 awardees for the Western Pacific Region.  They are: 

Sam An Men, Deputy Prime Minister, Cambodia; Professor Wu Yiqun, Director, Think Tank Research Center for Health Development, China; Professor Xu Guihua, Vice-President, Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, China; Ms Vilaythong MangNormek, Director‑General, Lao Women’s Union, Ministry of Public Security, Lao People’s Democratic Republic; and Professor Dr Le Thi Tuyet Lan, Head of Respiratory Care Center, University Hospital, University of Medicine and Pharmacy at Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam.


For more information, please contact, Dr Susan Mercado, WHO Regional Adviser in Tobacco Free Initiative, in +63 2 528  9894; e-mail: mercados@wpro.who.int


Empower and protect women from tobacco marketing and smoke

Women are at great risk


  • Tobacco companies are spending heavily on alluring marketing campaigns that target women.


  • Women are gaining spending power and independence.  Therefore, they are more able to afford cigarettes and feel freer to use them.


  • Tobacco companies are investing heavily in the low- and middle‑income countries, where most potential new female users live.


  • Many countries do not do enough to protect their people from second‑hand smoke.


  • Many women do not know about the harm done by second‑hand smoke, or feel as if they have no right to complain.

Tobacco use and premature deaths of women


  • Women comprise 20% of the world's 1 billion smokers. 


  • Of the more than 5 million people who die each year from tobacco use, approximately 1.5 million are women.


  • If current conditions continue, tobacco use will kill 8 million people each year by 2030, of whom 2.5 million will be women.


  • Three quarters of these deaths would be women in low- and middle‑income countries.  Each of these deaths would have been avoidable.


Disturbing trends on tobacco use among women and girls in the Western Pacific Region


  • Based on the Global Youth Tobacco Survey, it is estimated that 8.4 % of girls aged 13–15 years, or around 4.7 million girls, in the Western Pacific Region use tobacco products.


  • In New Zealand, smoking among girls ages 13–15 years increased from 23.9% in 2007 to 39.9 % in 2009.


  • In Cambodia, according to a nationwide survey in 2005, 17% of women and 1% of men chewed tobacco.  
    • It is estimated that more than a half million middle‑aged and older women in Cambodia chew tobacco.  
    • The high prevalence of tobacco chewing is linked to the belief that this alleviates morning sickness among pregnant women. 


  • In Palau, 53.7% of girls aged 13–15 currently use other tobacco products, including chewing beetle nut with cigarettes, increasing the risk for oral cancer.


  • In Viet Nam, it is reported that two thirds of all women are exposed to second‑hand smoke at home.


  • In China, where one third of the world's adult smokers live and where more than 97% of those smokers are men, more than half of women of reproductive age are regularly exposed to second‑hand smoke, which puts them and their unborn babies at risk.


The epidemic of tobacco use manifests itself differently in women than in men


  • The tobacco industry dupes many women into believing that smoking is a sign of liberation, and many women wrongly view smoking as a good way of keeping slim.


  • Women who smoke are more likely to experience infertility and delays in conceiving than those who do not.  Maternal smoking during pregnancy increases the risks of premature delivery, stillbirth and newborn death and may cause a reduction in breast milk.


  • Evidence shows that women develop lung cancer with lower levels of smoking compared to men, and are more at risk of contracting the (more aggressive) small cell lung cancer.


  • Women who smoke are at increased risk of developing potentially fatal chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.


  • Smoking increases women's risks for many cancers, including cancers of the mouth, pharynx, oesophagus, larynx, bladder, pancreas, kidney and cervix, as well as for acute myeloid leukaemia.  There is a possible link between active smoking and premenopausal breast cancer.


  • Many tobacco control strategies ignore women who chew tobacco.


  • Second‑hand smoke is a major health risk for women at home and in the workplace.


  • In many countries, vastly more men smoke than women, and many of those countries fail to protect nonsmokers from exposure to indoor second‑hand smoke adequately.


  • In many countries, women are powerless to protect themselves, and their children, from second‑hand smoke.


Tobacco industry marketing endangers women


  • Advertisements falsely link tobacco use with female beauty, empowerment and health.  In fact, addiction to tobacco enslaves and disfigures women.


  • Advertisements lure women with such misleading identifiers as "lite/light" or "low-tar".  A higher proportion of women than men smoke "lite/light" cigarettes, often in the mistaken belief that "lite/light" means "safer".



Call to action


Empower and protect women from tobacco marketing and smoke


Call to policy-makers


  • Strictly implement provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.  These include:
    • ban all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
    • ban smoking in all public places and workplaces
    • full participation of women in tobacco control policy-making, and implementation of tobacco control measures.


  • Consider the differential impacts on men and women of different ages when deciding upon tobacco pricing, health warnings, access and bans.


  • Ensure that government agencies and other stakeholders work together to take into account the different needs of men and women.


  • Ensure that tobacco control strategies take into account the special problems of women who chew tobacco.


  • Regularly collect data on tobacco use that is disaggregated by sex and age, so as to identify trends and health effects on men and women of all ages.


  • Foster additional clinical research in women on the health effects of tobacco, without assuming that results from studies on men apply to women.


Call to civil society and nongovernmental organizations


  • Advocate for full implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.


  • Urge governments to take into account the specific needs of both women and men in the development of tobacco control strategies.


  • Share information about the importance of controlling the global tobacco epidemic among women.


  • Help educate women about the tobacco industry's attempts to ensnare them and the dangers of tobacco use.


  • Sensitize men to the harm that their second‑hand smoke inflicts on the women and children with whom they live and work.


Call to the public


  • Demand that your government ban all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.


  • Demand that your government implement legislation to provide 100% protection from tobacco smoke in all public places and workplaces.


  • Campaign for women's freedom from tobacco as a human right.


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