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Wednesday, 30 May, 2001, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
UN agency warns women smokers
woman smoking
The WHO links smoking with a range of women's health problems
The World Health Organisation says the impact of smoking on women's health could be disastrous, with more suffering from cancers, infertility and brittle bones.

False images of good health, fitness, stress relief, beauty and being slim are used to appeal to women

World Health Organisation
In a report, the Geneva-based UN agency says that around 12% of women globally are estimated to smoke, compared to around 48% of men, but the gap is narrowing.

"The rates of smoking are increasing among youth and young women in several regions of the world," said WHO director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland.

The WHO says that in the industrialised world, women's health has already begun to suffer as a result of smoking.

Tobacco-related illnesses

Women in developing countries as well as in Japan, Germany and the United States are increasingly taking up smoking or are exposed to passive smoking.

In the United States lung cancer has overtaken breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths among women.

More than 48% of men are smoking around the world
It has long been known that pregnant women who smoke have a higher risk of miscarrying or giving birth to weak babies prone to infection.

But the report underlines that women smokers are more likely to be infertile, have difficulty getting pregnant, and risk an earlier menopause.

Furthermore, new evidence shows that parents who smoke can seriously harm the health of their children, who are more prone to asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia.

Control measures

The WHO urged countries to adopt stringent measures to stop a potentially dramatic rise in tobacco-related deaths among women.

"Countries must adopt a wide range of tobacco control measures, including bans on public smoking and bans on tobacco marketing and promotion if they want to avert this epidemic," the organisation said.

Smoking is a leisure activity and in a free society consumers decide for themselves

British American Tobacco spokesman
The organisation accused tobacco companies of using "misleading labels" such as mild or light and false images of good health and fitness.

The WHO says young women, often keen to stay slim, are seduced by marketing by cigarette companies which offer "female brands", low prices and free samples.

Tobacco companies have rejected the criticism in the study, saying smokers decide for themselves.

"Anyone over 18 has a choice - and it's an adult choice," said Scott Hailstone, spokesman for British American Tobacco.

"Smoking is a leisure activity and in a free society consumers decide for themselves," he added.

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See also:

30 May 01 | Health
EU steps up war on smoking
02 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
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15 Nov 00 | Health
Women smokers 'suffer more'
05 Jan 00 | Health
Gene puts female smokers at risk
11 Sep 00 | Health
Smoking addiction 'sets in early'
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