In observance of World No Tobacco Day, May 31, the World Health Organization is urging global action to protect women and girls against the ill effects caused by tobacco use. It is calling for a ban on all tobacco advertising, especially on those targeting women and girls in developing countries.
The World Health Organization accuses the tobacco industry of using seductive ads to attract women and girls to smoking. It says the industry is aggressively targeting women because it needs to recruit new users to replace those who will quit or die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases.
A new survey on youth smoking in 151 countries indicates almost as many girls use tobacco as boys. And in some countries, including Bulgaria, Mexico, New Zealand and Nigeria, more girls are using tobacco than boys.
The director of WHO's tobacco free initiative, Douglas Bettcher, calls this an alarming sign.
"It could mean that we are on the cusp of a much worse global tobacco epidemic amongst women," he said. "The significance of the finding is very worrisome since the evidence shows that girls and boys who smoke are likely to remain smokers in adulthood."
The World Health Organization says tobacco-related illnesses, such as heart attacks, strokes and cancers, kill more than five-million people a year. About 1.5 million of them are women.
Moreover, it says about 430,000 adults die from passive smoking. About 64 percent of these deaths are among women. The World Health Organization says pregnant women and their babies also are vulnerable to the harms of second-hand smoke.
Dr. Bettcher says tobacco usage will kill eight-million people prematurely by 2030, including 2.5-million women, unless the global tobacco epidemic is contained and reversed.
"We are facing a future in which women would achieve a kind of very perverse sort of equality," said Dr. Bettcher. "One in which they are as likely to die from smoking or chewing of tobacco as men."
The World Health Organization reports men account for 80 percent of the world's one-billion smokers. In large emerging markets, such as China and India, 60 percent of men smoke. Three to five percent of the smokers are women.
Dr. Bettcher notes this leaves a huge gap that the tobacco industry wants close by marketing its product towards women.
He says the tobacco industry is spending heavily on seductive advertisements that try to make women associate tobacco use to beauty and liberation.
"No one should be fooled, and this is what our campaign is saying this year, tobacco is not stylish. It is not empowering. It is ugly. It is deadly and it is addictive," he added. "This year's theme is a counter-attack against the use of women's magazines, the fashion industry and others, which entice new female smokers into the deadly tobacco trap."
Dr. Bettcher says the tobacco industry uses numerous tricks to get women to smoke. For instance, in Japan, he says pretty pink cigarette packs are promoted to attract women. And in Egypt, one maker uses a cigarette package that resembles a perfume container.