World No Tobacco Day - May 31, 2010: Women are huge potential market for the tobacco industry

Copenhagen, 28 May 2010

Tobacco advertising targeting women has gained prominence around the world, recruiting increasing numbers of women and girls as tobacco consumers, the WHO Regional Office for Europe warns, ahead of World No Tobacco Day (31 May 2010).

The theme for World No Tobacco Day 2010 is gender and tobacco, with an emphasis on marketing to women. WHO will use the occasion to draw attention to the gender dimension of tobacco advertising, and to reiterate its call to governments to ban all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

 Women comprise 200 million of the world’s more than 1 billion smokers. In the 53 countries belonging to the WHO European Region, 21% of all women smoke.

This figure is bound to rise as tobacco advertising – associating smoking with female beauty, luxury, empowerment and health – increasingly targets younger generations of women. In the European Region, 59% of men smoke, and the tobacco industry sees new market opportunities in narrowing the gender gap.

Smoking patterns in Europe

In the WHO European Region, smoking levels among women differ significantly, but countries tend to fall into three distinct groups.

  • In the Nordic and some western European countries, smoking rates for women and men are similar and are declining. For example, the proportions of male and female smokers are 30% and 30% in Norway, 34% and 28% in Ireland and 33% and 28% in the Netherlands, respectively.
  • In many countries in central and southern Europe, more men than women smoke, but rates among women are also high. For example, the proportions of male and female smokers are 63% and 39% in Greece, 47% and 41% in Austria and 49% and 38% in Bulgaria, respectively.
  • In the newly independent states (NIS) of the former USSR, smoking rates are high among men and appear relatively low among women (for example, 61% and 3% in Armenia, 53% and 24% in Latvia and 43% and 9% in Kazakhstan, respectively). Since the privatization of the tobacco industry in the NIS, however, cigarette consumption has risen rapidly and female smoking prevalence is rising.

WHO position on tobacco control

To counter the tobacco industry’s targeting of women and girls, WHO reiterates its call to governments to issue comprehensive bans of all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, as indicated in Article 13 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the guidelines for its implementation.

To date, 168 countries have ratified the Convention, including 46 in the WHO European Region.

In May 2005, the European Commission adopted a library of 42 pictorial health warnings for use by European Union (EU) Member States. Five countries within the EU (Belgium, France, Lithuania, Romania and the United Kingdom) and five outside it (Kazakhstan, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine) have approved or are using these warnings.

Nevertheless, Europe has a long way to go to match the example of Australia, where – in line with WHO recommendations – the Government will force tobacco companies to adopt plain packaging, removing all colour and branding logos, within two years. This is the first such move in the world, and is aimed at reducing smoking-related deaths.

Health risks specific to women

Many health risks for women are linked to smoking.

  • Smoking increases women’s risk of many types of cancer (including cancer of the mouth, pharynx, oesophagus, larynx, bladder, pancreas, kidney and cervix), as well as acute myeloid leukaemia. Active smoking may be linked to premenopausal breast cancer.
  • Women who smoke have a higher risk than those who do not of developing potentially fatal chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
  • Women smokers are also more likely to experience infertility and delays in conceiving. Maternal smoking during pregnancy increases the risks of premature delivery, stillbirth and newborn death, and may cause a reduction in breast milk.

World No Tobacco Day 2010

Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General has nominated the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for the World No Tobacco Day 2010 Award for his dedicated leadership on tobacco control in Turkey. Mr Erdogan was instrumental in advocating the passage and implementation of 2009 legislation making 100% of Turkey’s public places smoke-free. In the WHO European Region, Ireland, Turkey and the United Kingdom are the only three countries that have enacted laws requiring public places to be 100% smoke-free.

Each year, WHO celebrates World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, highlighting the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocating effective policies to reduce consumption. Tobacco use is the second cause of death globally (after hypertension) and is responsible for killing 1 in 10 adults worldwide. The World Health Assembly created World No Tobacco Day in 1987. Since 2004, WHO has given the World No Tobacco Day Award every year to recognize individuals’ and organizations’ accomplishments in tobacco control.

With questions about tobacco control, contact:

Kristina Mauer-Stender, Technical Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: + 45 39 17 16 03

For further information and interview requests,  contact:

Zsofia Szilagyi, Communications Adviser
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 39 17 16 27