Metrolife: Women smokers double in 7 years

Metrolife: Women smokers double in 7 years

Many films glamourise smoking, and show youth icons lighting up. Priyanka Chopra (right) in Fashion is among the leading ladies to smoke on screen in recent films.

More women are smoking than ever before, especially in urban centres like Bengaluru.

The factors are many: pop culture makes it look fashionable, and women think it is one way to use their newfound freedom in urban spaces.

Dr Shalini Joshi, internal medicine consultant, Fortis Hospitals, says young women living away from their families tend to pick up the habit.

They work in big cities, independently of parental controls, she says.

“Smoking is seen among young women professionals, in their mid-20s and in high-stress jobs. They want to be termed cool and treated equal to men,” she says.

If the women are on teams, they want to be part of its smoking breaks, she says.

Problems like infertility are connected to smoking among women, according to Dr Joshi.

Cases of heart attacks and heart ailments connected to smoking among women are not so common yet, says Dr Sunil Kumar, Consultant cardiologist, Columbia Asia Hospital. But the day may not be too far.

“We have many cases of male smokers below 40 who suffer heart ailments and heart attacks, but no young women smokers yet. This could be because smoking has become popular in the last decade or so and the scary ill effects are still to kick in,” he says.

Huge risks

By smoking, women risk breast and cervical cancer and cardiac ailments. Tobacco is a key aggregator, says a doctor.

Social disapproval

“Smoking is not a good habit, no matter who does it. But more people stare at women who smoke.”

Dr Shalini Joshi, Fortis Hospital.

Later initiation

“One thing to be happy about is that the initiation of smoking among women has increased from 17.7 years to 19.8 years. This means stringent laws and campaigns are working.”   

Dr Vishal Rao U S, member, High-power Committee on Tobacco Control and Cancer Prevention, Karnataka govt.

True or false?

The idea is propagated, especially in the fashion industry, that girls can be thin by smoking as it curbs their hunger pangs. “This is a myth. Studies show people who smoke can become more obese,” an oncologist says.

How numbers grew

Dr Vishal Rao U S, member of high-powered Committee on Tobacco Control & Cancer Prevention, Government of Karnataka, says women smoking constituted 0.3 per cent of the total population in the Global Adult Tobacco Survey of 2009-10. It went up to 0.7 percent in 2016-17.

The National Family Health Survey says the percentage of women smoking has gone up from 1.4 percent to 2.9 percent between 2005 and 2010.

“The WHO says this is the second epidemic in tobacco, with men smoking being the first. This means that in the last 50 years, there has been a massive social change in the roles of women and the tobacco industry has identified them as a crucial target group,” he says.

Film touch   

Many films get money from the tobacco giants and propagate smoking. They insert scenes where lighting a cigarette adds to a girl’s sensuality, and helps the character come out with an instant solution to a problem.

Dr Rao, who is also consultant oncologist at HealthCare Global Cancer Centre, adds, “The big giants in the tobacco industry portray cigarettes, which were a taboo, as a torch of freedom. The concept of ‘ladies first’ to show empowerment is now used by them.”

They show nicotine as a great source of adrenaline, especially for women in stress situations. This is another way of marketing, he says.


Tini Sara Anien