With more than 1m Irish men already hooked on cigarettes, tobacco manufacturers are courting lucrative new customers, especially young women, according to the Irish Cancer Society, which hosted a conference in Dublin yesterday in association with the National Women’s Council of Ireland to discuss the matter.
Almost one in three women in Ireland smoke, Kathleen O’Meara, head of advocacy with the ICS, told the conference. “Superslim cigarettes have been the key design innovation of the last five years, with particular appeal to the female smoker,” she said.
The society claims the tobacco industry has developed brands and products specifically for women, linking these with the idea of glamour and slimness. Packs use feminine colours and names that are perceived as being more attractive and less harmful than others, the conference heard.
“Despite significant measures to reduce smoking in Ireland, the number of women smoking has reached a crisis point,” said Ms O’Meara.
“Big Tobacco is misleading women with products which link smoking to glamour and femininity. We are warning girls and young women that the tobacco industry is manipulating them into developing an addiction which kills one in two smokers. Women need to be aware of the tobacco industry’s tactics.
“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 smoke — twice the rate among non-disadvantaged groups.
“It is time to take action,” Ms O’Meara said. “Around 70% of smokers want to quit but they have to be helped. There is a need for more support in disadvantaged areas.”
Data from the National Cancer Registry shows the number of lung cancers among 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.
The ICS alert follows a call by the World Health Organisation for global action to protect women from tobacco use.
It has estimated that the rate of female smokers worldwide will double by 2025 as the male smoking rate has peaked and is slowly starting to decline.
The UN said females represent the biggest potential growth market for tobacco products.
The agency said research in half of the 151 countries surveyed for tobacco trends among young people revealed girls’ use of tobacco was comparable to boys.
* Contact the National Smokers’ Quitline on 1850 201 203 or www.quit.ie