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1 in 3 women in Ireland smoke - report

One in two younger and more disadvantaged women are addicted to tobacco, bringing the problem to “epidemic” proportions, according to the Irish Cancer Society.

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ALMOST ONE IN three Irish women smoke – and one in two younger and more disadvantaged women are addicted to tobacco – a new report by the Irish Cancer Society has revealed.

The report, Women and Smoking: Time to Face the Crisis, shows a mix of social and psychological reasons makes it hard for women to quit.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Kathleen O’Meara, Head of Advocacy and Communications at the Irish Cancer Society, said there was a “major concern” about the high rates of smoking among Irish women – particularly as lung cancer has now overtaken breast cancer as the main cause of cancer death among women in Ireland.

“We are also very concerned about the fact that more disadvantaged women are smoking and that the incidence of lung cancer in this social group is almost twice as high as that among better off women,” she said.

The report outlines the findings of a major conference organised by the Irish Cancer Society in collaboration with the National Women’s Council of Ireland in July 2012. It features research on the reasons behind women choosing to smoke and also how the tobacco industry is targeting women with specific marketing tactics.

“We know that more than two thirds of smokers want to quit but this report shows that there are social and psychological reasons which make it hard for women to quit,” O’Meara said. “Many women are aware of the health risks of smoking but see smoking as a way to cope with the stress and pressures of life.”

“Smoking is an important part of life in the community they live in and gives women a very important sense of belonging to a group and the support that goes with it. If we are to support these women to quit smoking, which could save their lives, we need to recognise this and find ways to have communities be supportive places for women to quit smoking.”

Some of the main findings:

Prevalence

The report reveal that Ireland’s smoking rate remains “stubbornly” high at 29 per cent, with 27 per cent of women now smoking. The highest rate is seen among women aged 18 to 29 in the more deprived social class groups, with more than half of women in these groups being smokers.

Health inequalities

Disadvantaged groups in society are disproportionately likely to smoke and least likely to give up cigarettes. The report notes that those who can “least afford to smoke” do so the most – and suffer the most from it.

Social aspects of smoking

Smoking is seen as a “a cultural and social issue” for women, according to the report. “A culture of smoking is embedded in many women’s lives. Smoking provides opportunities for social bonding for women and this often reinforces addiction to smoking.”

Many women also believe that smoking helps them to cope with stress.

Marketing

The report notes heavier marketing at potential female smokers by the tobacco industry. It found that women tend to believe lighter coloured packs are more elegant and feminine and less harmful.

The barriers to quitting smoking are were found to be “multifaceted”, and included reasons such as:

1. ”It will mean the end of my social life”

Most feel it would be impossible to get through a weekend without smoking and claim they would have to give up going out. The opportunities to meet people would diminish and it is much better fun in the smoking area.

2. ”I’ll get fat”

Women ate more during previous attempts to quit and are afraid of weight gain.

3. ”I will be impossible to live with”

Women fear the mood swings they assume will come with quitting.

5. ”I am a happy smoker”

A minority are happy smokers and have no plans to give up.

4. ”I see no reason to”

Majority believe they can reverse the effects of smoking.

Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland said Ireland needed a national strategy that takes differences between women and men in relation to smoking into account.

“The strategy should address crucial issues such as standards for cessation services, the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products and the development of community based smoking cessation services for women, in particular for women from disadvantaged communities,” she said.

The National Smokers’ Quitline1850 201 203

Smoking information: Irish Cancer Society or www.quit.ie

Read: Smokers urged seek support to kick the habit as new year begins

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