New data shows that soon more women will die from lung cancer than men. According to Macmillan the number of women suffering from the disease will almost quadruple over the next 30 years. Why is this, and what can we do about it?
Over 80% of lung cancers are caused by tobacco. Whilst the male smoking rate across Europe is gradually declining, sadly the number of women smoking is on the rise.
When you have a look at the kind of cigarette brands that are currently on the market, you can see why. Pretty pink, purple and silver colours, long, thin cigarettes and boxes the shape and size of lipstick or perfume packaging are all clearly aimed at young women and girls. Two thirds of smokers start before they are 18, and it can take just one packet of cigarettes to get hooked for life. So a well-targeted packaging design for teenage girls is enough to make them a life-long customer for tobacco manufacturers.
It is partly due to this effective marketing that we are seeing such a dramatic increase in the amount of women with lung cancer. But what can we do about it? Firstly, we have to stop the tobacco industry from designing appealing packaging that targets them. That’s why I wholeheartedly support standardised packaging, so that all cigarette boxes are the same shape and size, and can’t use eye-catching colours, graphics or fonts to appeal to certain sections of the population. I also support banning additives that make the tobacco taste ‘smoother’ and flavourings such as strawberry and vanilla, which make cigarettes more palatable for young people.
The EU rules on packaging and flavourings for cigarettes are due to be revised, but unfortunately the plans have been severely delayed due to industry pressure, not to mention the abrupt departure of the Commissioner in charge of drafting the legislation. I will keep fighting for tough action at European level, because anything that makes tobacco less attractive to young girls will eventually mean thousands of women’s lives saved from lung cancer.