The results of the largest ever tobacco study are in and it reveals worrying trends in many developing countries. Amid allegations that tobacco companies are targetting the least fortunate in society, tobacco is now on pace to kill 1 billion people.
These results are from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, which was backed by the World Health Organisation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, were published last week in the Lancet. The survey analysed smoking habits in 14 developing countries between 2008 and 2010.. The following findings are particularly shocking:
• Almost 50% of men surveyed used some form of tobacco product, compared to 11.3% of women, which is in fitting with social norms.
• 40.7% of men surveyed smoked a tobacco product compared to 5% of women.
• Women are beginning to smoke at an earlier age
• Quit rates were very low - In China, India, Egypt, Russia and Bangladesh they were below 20%.
The people beinhd the study blame big tobacco companies and failure by local governments to act for the trends. "Our data reflect industry efforts to promote tobacco use,” said lead study author Gary Giovino in Time Magazine, in the statement. “These include marketing and mass media campaigns by companies that make smoking seem glamorous, especially for women. The industry’s marketing efforts also equate tobacco use with Western themes, such as freedom and gender equality.”
Edouard Tursan D'Espaignet of WHO's tobacco control program blames the actions of large tobacco corporations for these alarming statistics. "In many countries, particularly eastern Europe and China, the market is probably saturated" among men," he was quoted as saying at CNN. "We can see the tobacco industry is targeting young people, and they're targeting women."
Previously it has been found that women who smoke generally start later than men, however this appears to no longer be the case. "Alarmingly, this study shows that -- in most countries we surveyed -- age of smoking initiation for women might now be approaching the young ages at which men begin," the report says.
"Industry marketing campaigns traditionally have targeted men," says lead study author Gary Giovino. Also, "social norms tend to make smoking socially less acceptable -- and even unacceptable in many countries -- among women."
Through marketing campaigns it appears tobacco companies have succeeded in breaking those norms. Big tobacco is also extending its reach into new markets, such as Africa, Tursan D'Espaignet said.
Countries with weaker or poorer governments have bigger problems to contend with and lack the resources to effectively mobilise anti-smoking efforts. Tobacco companies are "targeting countries that have less capacity to withstand the onslaught," said Tursan D'Espaignet.
Edouard blames tobacco companies for an increase in smoking since the fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime last year. For all his flaws Mubarak had enforced a number of smoke free zones around the country which are no longer enforced. According to D'Espaignet "the tobacco industry walked in very, very aggressively" to market its product amid the chaos. Remarkably he has heard "things like 'Smoking is a way to show you're free from the previous regime.'"
These statistics compare very unfavourably with the smoking statistics in the UK for example where approximately 21% of males smoke. This correlates with the % in the US. The countries surveyed are effectively 4 decades behind the UK in smoking statistics where 55% of males smoked back in the 1970s.