Last week I was in Paris and I was so surprised by the number of young women smoking in the outdoor pavement cafes.
The Parisian women smoke with glamour, confidence and style, combining smoking with their morning coffee. It seems to me that many French people are at least occasional smokers and maybe it is one of the secrets as to why the French stay so slim.
English girls smoke too but smoking in England is considered politically incorrect and it is heavily banned in public places: so most smokers are huddled on cold street corners furtively sharing their shameful addiction.
A Frenchman named Nicot (from whose name the word nicotine is derived) introduced tobacco to France in 1560 and from France tobacco smoking spread to England. But the French do not have it all figured out in a good way; whilst they may smoke with great style, smoking is also one of the worst habits and can destroy your health.
The number of women smokers has risen in the last decade or two. Some anti-smoking groups blame it on the failure to increase tobacco prices. But, low prices alone cannot be the reason for young women taking up smoking when everyone knows it is bad for your health.
History of women's smoking
Many women in the past took to tobacco because they regarded cigarettes as a symbol of freedom and the so-called image of rebellion that comes with smoking. There is an interesting story about how America accepted and promoted women's smoking.
The beginning of the 1900s saw a movement demanding a woman's right to vote in America; during this time the American Tobacco company was promoting the cigarette brand Lucky and saw a great new market in promoting cigarettes to women.
They hired young models to join the Easter Parade in New York who posed as suffragettes while lighting up cigarettes and wearing banners describing their cigarettes as 'torches of liberty'. The result was that cigarette sales to women skyrocketed and spread throughout the country. Smoking had become associated with women's liberation. Film makers often enhanced the actress Audrey Hepburn's glamour by giving her a cigarette holder which can be seen in films such as Breakfast At Tiffany's.
Today medical studies have proven that smoking tobacco is among the leading causes of many diseases such as lung cancer, heart attacks, COPD, gum disease; and can also lead to birth defects. So when we know that smoking is turning our lungs black, why do so many young women take up this habit?
So why do so many young women get hooked on smoking?
There are of course many reasons as to why women smoke. According to Health Canada, most women smoke to relax and take a break and for comfort. Some smoke to deal with stress and depression while others are believed to be fighting feelings of helplessness or dealing with anger and frustration through tobacco use. Thai researchers found that smoking and tobacco use is related to education and income. The lesser the education and lower the income, the higher the rate of smoking. In Indian studies researchers concluded that the greatest tobacco consumption is observed among illiterate and less educated people. They also found that smoking was significantly linked to heart disease and high blood pressure.
The health hazards of smoking have caused many countries such as Singapore to fix high taxes on tobacco products and anti-smoking campaigns are launched every year in an attempt to curb tobacco smoking. Tobacco companies are also responsible for encouraging girls and women to smoke.
According to the WHO, women in China represent the largest potential market for tobacco companies. Cigarette manufacturers created cigarette brands which they promoted as mild and low in tar to appeal to women. Tobacco advertisements have themed their products around women's independence, stress relief, and even losing weight. The tobacco industry has had a large part to play in encouraging more women to take up smoking by perpetuating the myth that smoking is glamorous, and a form of independence. New brands come out all the time specifically targeted at women. It is difficult to persuade the young that they are not invincible and that what you do today affects your health tomorrow, the best advice of all is never to start as it is addictive and so hard to give up.
If you have friends who smoke never allow them to smoke in your home because you care about them.
Alva Carpenter/Nutritionist and fitness expert based in the Gulf.