Today is International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate the progress that’s been made for women’s rights around the world, and a day to call for much-needed change.
Cigarette smoking among women is declining in many developed countries, but unfortunately, this is not true everywhere. In many places, particularly developing countries, the number of women and girls who smoke is increasing. In addition to the harms directly from smoking, many women die because of involuntary exposure to second hand smoke. Women also frequently suffer other negative impacts associated with smoking, including financial consequences.
Tobacco companies’ products killed two million women last year, an entirely known and predictable result of the targeted marketing of goods the industry knows will addict and kill when used as intended. But tobacco companies are looking for a pat on the back (see image of a Tweet from Philip Morris International) for hiring, empowering and promoting women.
Celebrating women’s human rights gains is laudable, but we cannot allow the tobacco industry to cherry pick parts of their hiring practices in an effort to whitewash their deadly image. For the tobacco industry to cite their adherence to the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGPs) is particularly galling (see image of Tweet from British American Tobacco). As the Danish Institute for Human Rights put it, “Tobacco is deeply harmful to human health, and there can be no doubt that the production and marketing of tobacco is irreconcilable with the human right to health. For the tobacco industry, the UNGPs therefore require the cessation of the production and marketing of tobacco.”
We must look critically at the records of companies who use International Women’s Day to pay lip service to their claims of supporting women. Tweets don’t guarantee real action. If tobacco companies truly supported women’s rights and especially their right to health, every tobacco company would stop selling tobacco products.