Tobacco firms must not target female smokers

The allegation by the Irish Cancer Society that the tobacco industry is "aggressively targeting" women will come as no surprise. Anyone, smoker or non-smoker, who has spent any time in a pub or workplace smoking area will need no reminding of the fact that a growing proportion of smokers are now women.

At a conference held in Dublin yesterday it was revealed that more women are now dying from lung cancer than from breast cancer.

This is a confirmation the fact that, after several decades of tobacco advertising and promotion campaigns largely aimed at women, female death rates from tobacco-related illnesses are now approaching male death rates.

Regardless of whether one is a smoker or not, smoking is a very dangerous activity. Up to half of all smokers, male or female, will die from a smoking-related illness while the average smoker can expect to live for at least 10 years less than their non-smoking counterparts.

While responsible adults who have been warned of the dangers of smoking are entitled to make their own decision on whether to puff or not, advertising and promotion campaigns aimed specifically at women, including female-friendly colour schemes on cigarette packaging and subliminal hints that cigarettes somehow assist slimming, are completely unacceptable.

The freedom of choice which comes from living in a democracy means that smokers are entitled to make the wrong choices. However, the tobacco companies must not be allowed to abuse that freedom of choice to persuade women smokers that cigarettes are somehow "cool" or serve as an aid to slimming.