July 4, 2012

Female smoking in Ireland reaches crisis point as ‘Big Tobacco’ targets Irish women and girls

Irish Cancer Society hosts conference to address women and smoking problem

At a conference in Dublin today (July 4th) the Irish Cancer Society will highlight how the tobacco industry is aggressively targeting women and girls in the hope to recruit more women smokers. The conference, held in association with the National Women’s Council of Ireland, aims to address the crisis of women and smoking and the fact that for the first time more women in Ireland are dying from lung cancer than breast cancer. The conference brings together health professionals, women’s organisations, and policymakers to see how best to tackle the problem.
The conference will address how the tobacco industry undermines efforts to reduce smoking rates by targeting girls and young women. The underhand tactics used and the measures the industry goes to communicate with women since the advertising of tobacco products has been banned will also be outlined. Almost 1 in 3 women in Ireland now smoke. Smoking is the main cause of preventable death and disease in Ireland. Women represent a key target market for an industry which needs to constantly recruit new smokers to replace the half of all lifetime users who are killed by tobacco. 
The industry has developed brands and products specifically for women and they are packaged to appeal to women by linking tobacco products with the idea of glamour, sophistication and slimness. Packs using light, feminine colours and names are perceived as being more attractive and less harmful than other brands. 
Many women begin smoking to lose or maintain weight and continue smoking in fear of weight gain. This may be an irrational fear as weight gain is not inevitable and can be avoided. The tobacco industry exploits this fear by linking brands targeting women to slimness. Superslim cigarettes have been a key product innovation for the tobacco industry in recent years. Young women looking at cigarette packs which are branded as “slim” are more likely to believe that the contents make them slim. 
“Despite significant measures to reduce smoking in Ireland, the number of women smoking has reached a crisis point,” says Kathleen O’Meara, Head of Advocacy & 
Communications with the Irish Cancer Society.
“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 1 in 2 smokers. We are now facing a lung cancer crisis. It is time to take action. Women need to be aware of the tobacco industry’s tactics. They also need support to quit. 70% of smokers want to quit but they need support to do this. Evidence shows that services which provide behavioural and pharmacological support can help women to stop smoking. We need services like this to be available in communities throughout Ireland, particularly in disadvantaged areas.”
The burden of smoking related illness is being carried by disadvantaged women. More than half of disadvantaged women aged between 18 and 29 smoke. This is twice the rate of non-disadvantaged groups.The poorest women in Ireland have a rate of lung cancer incidence which is almost twice that of the richest.
International expert, Amanda Amos, Professor of Health Promotion with the University of Edinburgh and speaker at the conference says, “Given the investment tobacco companies are making in packaging cigarettes in a way that appeals to women and girls, and given the evidence of effectiveness of this approach, it is worth considering the introduction of plain packaging”.
Research has found that plain packaging is less attractive to young people, improves the effectiveness of health warnings, reduces mistaken beliefs that some brands are ‘safer’ than others and is likely to reduce smoking uptake amongst children and young people.