WHO warning: The tobacco industry is targeting women

News release

Manila, 27 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

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