For more than thirty years, there have been many calls for the mainstreaming of gender into tobacco control (World Health Organization 2007); however, insufficient progress has been made with dire health and economic consequences. Recommendations from women’s health advocates – including those involved in the creation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the Kobe Declaration – for an increase in funding for gender-specific research and advocacy, the use of sex-disaggregated data, affordable tobacco control programs, measures to disconnect women’s liberation from tobacco use, and the education of women and girls have largely not been met. Barriers to gender equity in tobacco control include a) male bias in research; b) lack of intersectionality in research and policy development; c) underrepresentation of women in leadership and science; d) inequitable funding of women researchers; and e) stigmatization and sexism (Solomon 2020).
The Impact of COVID-19
With increased attention on the relationship between smoking and the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 mortality among men (Global Health 5050 2020), there is now grave concern that gender stereotypes of tobacco – including that it is predominantly a men’s health issue – will become further entrenched, and women’s cessation needs will continue to be neglected. It’s possible that there is now an even greater risk that women will be left behind by tobacco control as political capital and financial resources are increasingly constrained and diverted to the COVID-19 response. Further, as higher rates of smoking have also been linked to psychosocial factors such as mental health issues, drug or alcohol dependence, and trauma induced by intimate partner violence or sexual abuse (Greaves and Hemsing 2009), we may see a global increase in smoking among women as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its negative impact on mental health and gender-based violence.
Greaves, L. and N. Hemsing. 2009. “Women and tobacco control policies: Social-structural and psychosocial contributions to vulnerability to tobacco use and exposure.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2009.05.001 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19520523/