Big Tobacco's Newest Most Vulnerable Victims – Young Women

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Big Tobacco's Newest Most Vulnerable Victims – Young Women

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - 3:00pm


By Cynthia M. LeBlanc, Ed.D, Chair, American Cancer Society

Singapore: Today, the American Cancer Society released the 4th edition of the global Tobacco Atlas, a joint publication with the World Lung Foundation, at the World Conference on Tobacco OR Health in Singapore. Among other findings, the book notes that the top 6 tobacco manufacturers earned more than $35 billion in profit in 2010. That same year, there were almost 6 million deaths from tobacco. To put this in context, these tobacco companies earn almost $6,000 in profit per death caused by tobacco.

They use this wealth and power to market to young people, particularly young women, in many low- and middle-income countries. Despite a World Health Organization (WHO) global public health treaty that includes measures such as banning tobacco ads and sponsorships, which would curb use among young people, many ads still actually feature candy and youth-oriented lingo. In countries where women are making real strides to achieve gender equality, tobacco marketers use their enormous profits to pepper billboards with ads that associate smoking with women's empowerment. They also find ways to skirt laws that prohibit marketing near schools, arcades, and other venues frequented by youth.

Dr. Margaret Chan, the director-general of WHO, is among many health advocates in Singapore calling out "Big Tobacco" for what they are doing and demanding more public outrage to influence laws against tobacco. In her keynote speech, Dr. Chan invoked a popular former US cigarette ad from the 1960s, putting her own twist on it. As Dr. Chan said, “We’ve come a long way, bullies. We will not be fazed by your harassment." 

Harassment and bullying usually affects the most vulnerable populations. Indeed, the Atlas shows an alarming trend – the gap between teenage girls and teenage boys who smoke is closing. If these patterns continue, the consequences for women, families, and economies will be devastating. Women and children are also the victims of the deadly toxins in secondhand smoke. In countries with a high male and low female smoking prevalence, the secondhand smoke exposure causes illness and death. In fact, women and children account for 75% of the 600,000 deaths caused by secondhand smoke. Women who smoke also increase their risk for fertility problems and low birth-weight babies.

Tobacco control is essential to reduce noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in women. These diseases – which include cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory diseases –account for more than 63% of global deaths. 

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Keywords: Social Impact & Volunteering | American Cancer Society | Cancer | Health | global cancer | women's health