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WHO calls for protection of women and girls from tobacco: World No Tobacco Day 2010 focuses on the marketing of tobacco to women

Sheila Pantry OBE
June 2010

In observance of World No Tobacco Day 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) is urging global action to protect women and girls against the sickness and suffering caused by tobacco use.

"The trends in some countries are extremely worrisome," said WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. "Tobacco use is neither liberating nor glamorous. It is addictive and deadly."

This year's campaign theme, Gender and tobacco with an emphasis on marketing to women, focuses on the harmful effects of tobacco marketing towards women and girls. It also highlights the need for governments to ban all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and to eliminate tobacco smoke in all public and work places as provided in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Although many more men use tobacco than women (women make up only about 20% of the world's smokers), there is evidence that the epidemic of tobacco use among girls is increasing in some countries and regions.

In half of the 151 countries recently surveyed for trends in tobacco use among young people, approximately as many girls used tobacco as boys. More girls used tobacco than boys in some of the countries, including Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Cook Islands, Croatia, Czech Republic, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria and Uruguay.

Women are a major target for the tobacco industry in its effort to recruit new users to replace those who will quit or die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases. The leading preventable cause of death, tobacco use kills more than five million people every year, about 1.5 million of whom are women.

"We know that tobacco advertising increasingly targets girls," said WHO Assistant Director-General for Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health Dr Ala Alwan. "This campaign calls attention to the tobacco industry's attempts to market its deadly products by associating tobacco use with beauty and liberation."

Often the threat to women is less from their being enticed to smoke or chew tobacco than from their being exposed to the smoke of others, particularly men. Worldwide, of the approximately 430,000 adult deaths caused per year by second-hand smoke, about 64% are among women. Pregnant women, as well as their babies, are also vulnerable to the harms of second-hand smoke.

"By enforcing the WHO Framework Convention, governments can reduce the toll of fatal and crippling heart attacks, strokes, cancers and respiratory diseases that have become increasingly prevalent among women," says Dr Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative.

WHO calls on governments and the public to demand a ban on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; to support implementation and strong enforcement of legislation to provide 100% protection from tobacco smoke in all public and work places; and to take global action to advocate for women's freedom from tobacco.


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