CHENNAI: On the World No Tobacco Day this year, the good news about women smokers is relative and the bad news is absolute. The percentage of female smokers above the age of 15 years has shown no difference from 1980 to 2012. But India has the second largest number of female smokers just behind USA.
A study titled Smoking Prevalance and Cigarette consumption in 187 Countries 1980-2012 undertaken by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington found that the number of woman smokers has increased from 5.3 million in 1980 to 12.1 million in 2012.
During the same time, global daily tobacco smoking among women has significantly reduced from 10.6 per cent in 1980 to 6.2 per cent in 2012.
However, in India, smoking prevalence (percentage of women above the age of 15 smoking cigarettes) hardly changed: from 3 per cent to 3.2 per cent. This stands in stark contrast to smoking prevalence among men in India, which has reduced from 33.8 per cent in 1980 to 23 per cent in 2012.
In fact, Indian woman smokers puff an average of seven sticks a day as compared to men (6.1).
On the positive side, the same study revealed that smoking prevalence among women in India is comparatively lower than many other countries. In Russia it is 16.9 per cent followed by USA (14.3).
Many of India's neighbours have lower smoking prevalence among women: chief among them being China (2.1 per cent), Bangladesh (1.8 per cent) and Sri Lanka (1 per cent).
The only exception is Nepal, which has a smoking prevalence as high as 16.9 per cent.
The findings of the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2009-10, undertaken by the International Institute for Population Science on behalf of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare vary slightly: 24.3 per cent of men and 2.9 per cent of women above 15 years smoke.
The Global Burden of Disease published in the medical journal Lancet has documented a 2.2 per cent annualised reduction in daily smoking in Indian women and 3.1 per cent in men between 2005 and 2015. It estimated that prevalence of smoking among women in India in 2015 was 2.9 per cent.
The study also revealed one in four men and one in 20 women worldwide smoke, although population growth has meant a rise in the number of smokers worldwide from 870 million in 1990 to 933 million in 2015.
Both GATS and Lancet confimed that the average Indian female starts to smoke at the age of 17.5 years, compared to 18.8 years for Indian men.
The GATS study revealed that states like Maharashtra and Kerala which have a high per capita income have a low zero prevalence of female smoking while states having low per capita income like Mizoram and Sikkim have higher prevalence of female smoking, 19 per cent and 15.9 per cent respectively.
The third National Family Health Survey 2005-06 revealed that states with lower female literacy rates such as Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland have high prevalence of female smoking. In comparison, states like Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu, which have high female literacy rates have lower female smoking rates.
Incidentally, unlike most countries where cigarettes constitute over 90 per cent of tobacco consumption, in India it is just about 11 per cent. The GATS study revealed that 18.4 per cent of women use smokeless tobacco, much higher than the proportion of smokers in the age group of 15 years and above (0.8 per cent). The survey also showed that whereas the use of tobacco among women in the urban areas is only 12 per cent, it is much higher in the rural areas (24 per cent) One of the reasons for the increase in women smokers is that anti-smoking campaigns in India have not been specifically targeted at them. It is always a Mukesh who is suffering from the effects of smoking and not a woman.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says women tend to be less influenced by anti-smoking campaigns than their male counterparts. This has been confirmed by a study as Cigarette Package Health Warnings and Interest in Quitting Smoking — 14 Countries, 2008-2010. It says only 18 percent of Indian women who smoke notice warnings, which is far below the global average.