The World Health Organization has called for "global action" to protect women and girls against the sickness and suffering caused by tobacco use.

The health organization's call to action comes ahead of the international launch of World No Tobacco Day on May 31.

WHO Director General Margaret Chan said tobacco use is "neither liberating nor glamorous," but is instead "addictive and deadly."

The United Nations agency said females represent the biggest potential growth market for tobacco products and are being subjected to aggressive marketing campaigns, especially in developing countries.

WHO says governments need to ban all tobacco advertising and eliminate tobacco smoke in all public and work places.

The agency said research in half of the 151 countries surveyed for tobacco trends among young people revealed girls' use of tobacco products was comparable to boys.

However, the health organization reported more girls used tobacco than boys in some countries, including Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Cook Islands, Croatia, Czech Republic, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria and Uruguay.

WHO estimates that women account for 64 percent of the 430,000 adult deaths from second-hand smoke.  

WHO says about 1.5 million women are among the five million people who die every year from tobacco use.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.