Today, 200 million of the world’s one billion people who smoke are women and 2.15 million women die from tobacco use every year. Over 71% of those women live in low- and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest.
While overall, smoking rates are decreasing, tobacco use among women is decreasing at a significantly lower rate than in men, and in some countries, women are smoking more.
For example, in France between 1980 and 2012, despite a 6.3% decrease in smoking among men, there was a 75% increase in smoking among women.2
Women and girls are also uniquely vulnerable to other problems created by tobacco. Here are just a few of those examples:
- “Corporate Social Responsibility”- Tobacco companies sponsor initiatives to circumvent tobacco advertising regulations and garner business through public relations. For example, every year tobacco companies observe International Women’s Day, but a 2018 report revealed that Philip Morris International’s public relations campaigns on “Empowering Women” was rolled out in about 30 countries (largely LMICs), where a significant increase in women smoking has been observed.
- Economics- “The addictive nature of tobacco use crowds out other more productive household spending, such as purchasing food, education, housing, holidays and more.”
- Environment- Every year the tobacco industry costs the world not only lives, but also “600 million trees, 200,000 hectares of land, 22 billion tonnes of water and [produces] 84 million tonnes of CO2.”Tobacco products (and the companies who produce them) harm the environment throughout the entire lifecycle of the product- from growing all the way through post-consumer waste. The economic and health impacts of more prolonged droughts, reduced food production, and severe weather events are disproportionately felt by women. It is estimated that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women.
While we use International Women’s Day to highlight the challenges that tobacco creates for women, we also want to highlight the amazing women fighting the tobacco epidemic.
Watch our video below showcasing some of the doctors, lawyers, and advocates working worldwide to take down Big Tobacco.
Happy International Women’s Day to them, and to all the women fighting for the right to health.
 World Health Organization. 2010. 10 Facts on gender and tobacco. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO Department of Gender, Women and Health; 2010. Available from: http://www.who.int/gender/documents/10facts_gender_tobacco_en.pdf (accessed 2 November 2022).