Smoking: The biggest killer of Irish women

Smoking has become the latest — and most deadly — fashion statement for women, as lung cancer now kills more women in Ireland than breast cancer.

Tobacco-related diseases in women are reaching epidemic proportions here, according to the Irish Cancer Society, which yesterday launched a campaign aimed specifically at young female smokers.

Data from the National Cancer Registry shows that the number of lung cancers in women is increasing by 3% a year. From being a predominantly male disease for the past 50 years, lung cancer is projected to be a mainly female disease by 2025.

And, despite decades of anti-smoking health promotion, the tobacco industry is succeeding in making smoking fashionable again, particularly among women.

“Superslim cigarettes have been the key design innovation of the last five years, with particular appeal to the female smoker,” says Kathleen O’Meara, head of communications at the Irish Cancer Society.

“Japan Tobacco International has developed odour-reducing technology and added flavours in order to reduce odour emitted from burning cigarettes. All this product innovation is aimed at female smokers who the tobacco industry sees as a key growth area.

“Their success is highlighted by the fact more women are now dying from lung cancer than breast cancer.”

The ICS is particularly concerned at the high level of female smokers under-35, particularly those from poorer areas. More than half of disadvantaged women aged between 18 and 29 years of age smoke — twice the rate among non-disadvantaged groups.

The campaign to coincide with Ash Wednesday which is National No Smoking Day, seeks to encourage young women who smoke to quit and to direct them to support services. The “I’ll Quit When I’m 30” advertisements being launched by Grace Batterberry, the ex-smoker on Operation Transformation, are targeted at the women who set a date to quit but find it difficult to stick to it.

Research published in The Lancet last year found that women might extract more carcinogens and other toxic agents from the same number of cigarettes than men.

“Smoking is not just a behavioural habit,” says Ms O’Meara. “It is an addiction, and one that women sometimes find harder to fight than men.”

* Contact the National Smokers’ Quitline on 1850 201 203 or go online to

More in this section