NGO REPORT on Women and Tobacco

Text Size: Normal / Medium / Large
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Cook Islands, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Estonia, Guinea, Honduras, Hungary,Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore

Submitted by the International Alliance of Women to the 39th session of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women- 23 July to 10 August 2007, New York

Tobacco poses a threat to achieving the MDGs. That was the conclusion of a WHO report, The Millennium Development Goals and Tobacco Control (WHO, Geneva, 2002). The study shows an alarming trend that links poverty with tobacco use. Poor families are more likely to have smokers than richer families. They allocate a substantial part of their total expenditures to tobacco often exceeding what they pay for education or health care. For example, in Indonesia , low income families spend 5 to 15 percent of their income on tobacco.

Tobacco is the second major cause of death in the world, killing 4.9 million persons each year. Two-thirds of the poor nations have male smoking rates higher than the 35 percent in the developed world. Male prevalence rates in Estonia (44 percent), Hungary (53 percent), Guinea (58.9 percent), Kenya (66.8 percent), Indonesia (69 percent), Republic of Korea (64.8 percent) and Jordan (48 percent) are examples (country data based on Tobacco Control Country Profile 2003, Atlanta , The American Cancer Society et al, 2003.) Death and disability due to tobacco affects women even if they are not smokers. When the male head of household no longer provides an income, women are forced to enter the labor market or manage farmland. With unequal access to credit, agricultural resources, and financial know-how, rural women suffer dire economic consequences.

In countries where rates of tobacco use may be declining among men such as in New Zealand , Singapore , Belize , Honduras and Brazil , vigilance is needed as tobacco companies increasingly target women. Marketing tactics have been so successful that in the Cook Islands women smokers (71.1 percent) outnumber men two to one. The results of the Global Youth Tobacco Survey also indicate reasons to be alarmed as many girls in their early teens are taking up smoking. For example, in Jordan (1999), only ten percent of women smoked, but over 15 percent of girls aged 13 to 15 were smokers. These statistics may underestimate how much women really use tobacco as chewing tobacco or tobacco used with betel often go unreported.

How does tobacco affect food security for women? The WHO reports that globally, 5.3 million hectares of arable land are currently under tobacco cultivation land that could feed 10 to 20 million people. The economic "benefits" are precarious for women farmers in countries such as Kenya and Indonesia because land that is cleared for tobacco farming and wood-fired curing contributes to serious deforestation. The costs are social as well as economic. Women and girls who work in tobacco production and processing seldom receive a just share of the income. They may experience "green tobacco sickness" from handling tobacco leaves and suffer from respiratory, nerve, skin and kidney damage from pesticides.

The CEDAW can be called upon to strengthen tobacco control and protect women's rights to health. Economic policies such as tax increases on all tobacco products are effective measures. They increase government revenue while discouraging tobacco use. Women appear to be particularly responsive to these economic measures. Working closely with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the CEDAW committee and government can ensure that the MDG goals are achieved.