Instant Guide

Smoking: The 'disturbing' downside of female empowerment?

Women are making big gains in the developing world. But as they secure more rights and money, they're also picking up a dangerous habit

The World Health Organization reports that women smoke less than men — but only in countries where women have limited rights. In places where women have the same voting rights as men, and relative parity in the workplace, they also smoke at roughly the same rates, a pattern that has serious ramifications as highly populous countries like China rapidly develop. Here, a brief guide:

What's the correlation between smoking and empowerment?Men are five times more likely to smoke than women in male-dominated, developing nations such as China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Uganda. But in Australia, Canada, Sweden, the U.S., and other countries where women enjoy greater "empowerment," they tend to smoke at the same rate as men.

Why are up-and-coming women smoking more?Educated and successful women in rising countries may give smoking a try for the same reasons women did in the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s, says Dr. K. Michael Cummings of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, as quoted by Aol Health. "Women are turning to cigarettes," Cummings says, "because they are being directly targeted by the cigarette companies." Often, one of the study's researchers says, cigarettes are advertised as "a symbol of emancipation."

How many women are we talking about?A lot. In China, only about 4 percent of the country's roughly 500 million adult women smoke, compared to 61 percent of Chinese men. As China's women become more empowered, hundreds of millions of non-smokers could become newly converted smokers.

So does this mean major public health problems?Possibly. As female smoking rates rise, so will health problems linked to tobacco. Smoking is blamed for 5 million deaths worldwide each year, but that could rise to 8 million or more by 2030 if current trends continue. The researchers say developing countries need higher tobacco taxes, more prominent graphic health warnings, and smoke-free areas. Otherwise, says Douglas Bettcher of the World Health Organization, the "tobacco epidemic" will only get worse.

Sources: Aol, TIME, Reuters, RedOrbit

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