Tobacco industry targeting women in poor countries: WHO

World health officials Friday blasted the tobacco industry for going around enticing women in poor countries to smoke cigarettes with the same stereotypes used decades ago in rich nations.

"The tobacco industry is like a mutant virus," said Douglas Bettcher, a World Health Organisation expert, in presenting a report on tobacco use and women ahead of world anti-tobacco day on May 31.

As the number of smokers has declined in the rich countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the tobacco industry "has to look to new horizons to market their products... to look for greener pasture," said Bettcher.

That has sent the industry into developing countries with less stringent anti-smoking laws where cigarette manufacturers are reaping new revenue using old techniques, which has raised concerns at the WHO.

They sell cigarettes using stereotypes such as associating smoking with women's liberation, the kind of stereotypes featured in smoking promotions decades ago in the rich nations, Bettcher said.

According to WHO, there are more than one billion smokers worldwide today, and 200 million of them are women. In half of the 151 countries where surveys have been done on tobacco use among young people, there are nearly as many girls as boys smoking cigarettes.

Unless tougher anti-smoking measures are taken, an estimated eight million people could die from tobacco use by 2030, including 2.5 million women with three quarters of them from poor countries, the WHO added.

In February WHO chief Margaret Chan criticised the attitude of the tobacco industry as "ruthless" and "insidious" in its pursuit of markets in developing countries.

The WHO convention of 2005 aimed to ban advertising and sponsoring by the tobacco industry, support taxing its products and prevent smoking in public places as ways to reduce cigarette smoking which has been linked to increasing the risks of different cancers and heart disease.

Only five percent of the world's population lives in countries where the law bans smoking in public places, the WHO said.