SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - World No Tobacco Day kicked off on Monday aimed at women and girl smokers with posters warning “Chic? No, throat cancer”, as health officials said tobacco firms were targeting young women as they became affluent.
The World Health Organization (WHO) theme for the global anti-smoking day is “gender and tobacco” and the harmful effects of tobacco marketing and smoking on women and girls.
WHO said tobacco firms are spending heavily on alluring marketing campaigns targeting women as they gain spending power and independence, particularly in Asia’s booming economies.
It is estimated that more than 8 percent of girls between 13 and 15, or around 4.7 million girls, are using tobacco products in the Asia-Pacific region, said the WHO.
Indian doctors said there had been a considerable increase in women smoking, especially among young college girls, attributing the rise to stress, peer pressure and high disposable incomes.
“It’s a cause of concern that literate women in sectors like business, medicine...college girls from the higher strata of the society are getting addicted to the habit,” Dr Pradyut Waghre at Apollo Hospitals told The Times of India newspaper.
Tobacco is the second major cause of death in the world, currently responsible for the death of one in 10 adults worldwide, or about 5 million deaths each year, said the WHO.
Women make up about 20 percent of the world’s 1 billion smokers, but if current tobacco usage continues smoking will kill 8 million people a year by 2030 — 2.5 million will be women.
Each day 3,000 people die from tobacco use in Asia-Pacific, with smoking and chewing tobacco among women and girls on the rise, said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.
“Starting early results in addiction that later translates to a life of nicotine dependence, poor health and premature death,” said Shin.
In Cambodia some 17 percent of women, but only one percent of men, chew tobacco. It is estimated that more than a half million middle-aged and older women in Cambodia chew tobacco, believing it alleviates morning sickness during pregnancy.
A YouTube video of an Indonesian two-year-old boy, who reportedly smokes two packs of cigarettes a day, angered anti-smoking groups around the world last week. The video has been removed by YouTube.
“The tobacco industry is thriving and if we look at our society, even children have started to smoke,” Krida Wacana Christian University (Ukrida) student Stefano Leatemia told The Jakarta Post newspaper on Monday.
A rally of Indonesian university students on Sunday called for tougher controls on tobacco.
WHO is calling for comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship to protect women and girls from images that portray smoking as glamorous or fashionable. Only half of the nations in the Asia-Pacific have bans on tobacco advertising.
India’s Waghre said there was an increase in lung cancer among women in India, which was not there in the last decade, due to not only direct but also passive smoking. Close to half of all women in the Asia-Pacific are exposed to second-hand smoke in their homes or in the workplace, often due to cultural and social norms, which can lead to cause lung cancer, heart disease and respiratory conditions, said WHO.
A study in Shanghai of 72,000 non-smoking women found that exposure to their husbands’ smoking increased their risks of dying from lung cancer and heart disease by almost 40 percent. The women also had a nearly 50 percent higher risk of stroke.
Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Miral Fahmy