Tobacco's Deadly Seduction

Tobacco use among women and girls is a major concern in tobacco control as increasing rates of use threaten progress made in gender equity. Women make up 20 percent of the world’s smokers, and the number is rising.1 In addition, smokeless tobacco use among women is on par with or higher than use among men in several countries, including Bangladesh and Vietnam.2

Although the overall global smoking rate for women has declined from 8 percent in 2007 to 6 percent in 2015, smoking rates among women in low- and middle- income countries have not changed.3 Unless governments take action to reduce smoking, the global smoking rate for women is expected to rise to 20 percent by 2025.4

Increases in tobacco use among women have been attributable to changes in the role and economic status of women as economies grow, as well as changes in social and cultural factors as nations modernize.5 However, the direct, aggressive marketing of tobacco targeted to women is also recognized as a driving factor in increased tobacco use by women around the world.6

The tobacco industry targets women and girls with aggressive and seductive advertising that exploits ideas of independence, emancipation, sex appeal, slimness, glamour and beauty. Tobacco companies design products to specifically appeal to women, such as flavored cigarettes and fashionable packaging.

Even in countries where tobacco use by women is low, women are disproportionately exposed to secondhand smoke in the home and workplaces.7 Of all deaths attributable to secondhand smoke, 64 percent occur among women.8

The disease risk from smoking among women has dramatically increased over the last 50 years; the risk of lung cancer, COPD, and cardiovascular diseases are now at the same levels as men.9

Effective policies must be adopted to reduce tobacco use among women and protect women from secondhand smoke.

By curtailing tobacco marketing, adopting strong health pack warnings, increasing the price of tobacco products, expanding protection against secondhand smoke and carrying out effective public education campaigns, the predicted epidemic of tobacco-related illness and death among women around the world will be prevented.

1 WHO. Harmful effects of tobacco marketing and smoke on women and girls. (2010).
2 National Cancer Institute and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smokeless Tobacco and Public Health: A Global Perspective. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. NIH Publication. 2014; No. 14-7983
3 WHO. MPOWER Report. (2017)
4 Mckay, J. Amos, A. Women and tobacco. Respirology. 2003 Jun; 8(2):123-30
5 Sieminska, A., Jassem, E. The many faces of tobacco use among women. Med Sci Monit. 2014; 20: 153–162.
6 Haglund, M. Women and tobacco: a fatal attraction. Bulletin of the World Health Organization. 2010; 88:563-563.
7 Oeberg, M., Jaakkola, M.S., Woodward, A., Peruga, A., Pruess-Usteun, A. Worldwide burden of disease from exposure to second-hard smoke: a retrospective analysis of data from 192 countries. The Lancet. 2011; 377(9760): 139-146.
8 Sangar, N. Second hand tobacco smoke: Composition, exposure and potential health hazards. International Journal of Applied Research. 2016; 2(5): 705-708
9 HHS. The Health Consequences of Smoking-50 years of Progress A Report of the Surgeon General. (2014).

Last updated Sept. 6, 2017