The World Health Organization (WHO) selects “Gender and tobacco with an emphasis on marketing to women” as the theme for the next World No Tobacco Day, which will take place on 31 May 2010.
Controlling the epidemic of tobacco among women is an important part of any comprehensive tobacco control strategy. World No Tobacco Day 2010 will be designed to draw particular attention to the harmful effects of tobacco marketing towards women and girls. It will also highlight the need for the nearly 170 Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to ban all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in accordance with their constitutions or constitutional principles.
Women comprise about 20% of the world’s more than 1 billion smokers. However, the epidemic of tobacco use among women is increasing in some countries. Women are a major target of opportunity for the tobacco industry, which needs to recruit new users to replace the nearly half of current users who will die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases.
Especially troubling is the rising prevalence of tobacco use among girls. The new WHO report, Women and health: today’s evidence, tomorrow’s agenda, points to evidence that tobacco advertising increasingly targets girls. Data from 151 countries show that about 7% of adolescent girls smoke cigarettes as opposed to 12% of adolescent boys. In some countries, almost as many girls smoke as boys.
World No Tobacco Day 2010 will give overdue recognition to the importance of controlling the epidemic of tobacco among women. As WHO Director-General Margaret Chan wrote in the aforementioned report, “protecting and promoting the health of women is crucial to health and development – not only for the citizens of today but also for those of future generations”.
The WHO Framework Convention, which took effect in 2005, expresses alarm at “the increase in smoking and other forms of tobacco consumption by women and young girls worldwide”.
Although the World No Tobacco Day 2010 campaign will focus on tobacco marketing to women, it will also take into account the need to protect boys and men from the tobacco companies’ tactics. As WHO said in its 2007 report, Gender and tobacco control: a policy brief, “Generic tobacco control measures may not be equally or similarly effective in respect to the two sexes…[A] gendered perspective must be included…It is therefore important that tobacco control policies recognize and take into account gender norms, differences and responses to tobacco in order to…reduce tobacco use and improve the health of men and women worldwide”.
In another 2007 report, Sifting the evidence: gender and tobacco control, WHO commented, “Both men and women need full information about the sex-specific effects of tobacco use…equal protection from gendered advertising and marketing and the development of sex-specific tobacco products by transnational tobacco companies…[and] gender-sensitive information about, and protection from, second-hand smoke and occupational exposure to tobacco or nicotine”.
The WHO Framework Convention recognizes “the need for gender-specific tobacco control strategies”, as well as for the “full participation of women at all levels of [tobacco control] policy-making and implementation [of tobacco control measures]”.
On World No Tobacco Day 2010, and throughout the following year, WHO will encourage governments to pay particular attention to protecting women from the tobacco companies’ attempts to lure them into lifetimes of nicotine dependence. By responding to WHO’s call, governments can reduce the toll of fatal and crippling heart attacks, strokes, cancers and respiratory diseases that have become increasingly prevalent among women.
Tobacco use could kill one billion people during this century. Recognizing the importance of reducing tobacco use among women, and acting upon that recognition, would save many lives.