Women's health: Up in smoke?
Among 87 countries with available data, there are 38 countries worldwide where 20% or more women age 15 or older smoke. Only 7 of these are developing countries: Brazil, Chile, Cook Islands, Cuba, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Uruguay. The highest women's smoking rates are in Europe -- Denmark and Norway top the list with 37% and 36%, respectively.
About 3.5 million people die each year from tobacco use, more than half a million of them women. As the proportion of women smokers increases, so ultimately will the proportion of women dying from tobacco-related causes.
Most smokers start during their teens -- the median age of initiation is under 15 in many countries. In a number of industrialized countries, including Austria, Denmark, Spain and Sweden, smoking rates are now higher among teenage girls than teenage boys, according to WHO. Yet the tragic impact in illness and death among these young people will not appear in the statistics for about 30 years. In the industrialized countries where women have long smoked, their death rate from smoking-related disease is rising rapidly, accounting for 25% to 30% of all female deaths in middle age.
In addition to the main smoking-related illnesses, including lung and oral cancer, emphysema and heart disease, women smokers face increased risk of cervical cancer, impaired fertility and premature menopause. There is also a higher rate of miscarriage among expectant mothers who smoke, and smoking during pregnancy is linked to low birth weight, which increases infants' risk of death and illness.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child mandates countries to safeguard children's health and to protect them from exploitation and promote health education. Therefore, support for strong restrictions on the sale and promotion of tobacco products to children and teens is a global child rights issue.