NEW DELHI: The number of women consuming tobacco products has doubled over 15 years, according to a report by the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).
While only 10% of women consumed tobacco products during the mid- and late-1990s, the number has increased to 20% in recent years, the report said. Tobacco consumption among men has remained in the range of 45-57% between 1995-96 and 2009-10.
The increase in tobacco consumption among women was largely fueled by the rise in smokeless tobacco use, the PHFI report said. Promotional tactics companies linking linking tobacco consumption to empowerment as another is a significant factor, experts say.
Various surveys and studies show that India is at the second stage of tobacco epidemic where women tend to follow male pattern. “This is an expected rise. India is a developing nation witnessing tremendous socio-economic development coupled with financial independence of women. The tobacco industry sees women as lucrative consumers waiting to be tapped at this point,” Monika Arora, director-health promotion division at PHFI, said.
Women, in both urban and as well as rural settings, see tobacco consumption as a sign of empowerment and hence they follow men, Arora added. This has been further enhanced due to Bollywood films containing tobacco imagery, resulting in large level exposure in India, relative to other countries, she said.
Trends in western countries show men are the first ones to start smoking with a gradual increase in the trend. In the second stage, women follow them.
However, in the third phase, males face morbidity and mortality, while the impact of tobacco consumption increases among women. In the last leg, consumption is generally on a decline among both sexes, though morbidity and mortality continue to rise due to rising trends in the previous phases.
The latest National Family Health Survey and Global Adult Tobacco Survey also showed a significant rise in women consuming tobacco. While NFHS pegged the increase at around 11%, GATS study for 2009-10 showed 21% rise in women consuming tobacco.
Government officials as well as public health experts anticipate tobacco use among women is likely to have increased further in the last five years, even as increased taxes and government-run campaigns are expected to have brought down the rate of tobacco consumption among men.
To make an assessment of the impact of the ongoing campaigns as well as gauge the trend among women, health ministry has commissioned another GATS study for 2015-16. The final report is expected by the middle of next year, an official said.
The total economic cost attributable to tobacco use from all diseases in India in 2011 for persons aged 35-69 years amounted to Rs 104,500 crore, of which 16% was direct cost and 84% was indirect. While males contributed 91% of the total economic burden, females accounted for the rest. However, in case of economic burden due to smokeless tobacco, the contribution from females was much higher at 29%.