The proportion of Indian men smoking every day has fallen from a third to a little over a fifth over the last three decades, but the percentage of women smokers has remained largely unchanged. Given the country’s population, this means in absolute numbers India has more women smokers than in every country except the US.
According to new research by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, the prevalence of smoking among Indian men fell from 33.8 per cent in 1980 to 23 per cent in 2012.
Female smoking prevalence in 2012 was 3.2 per cent, virtually the same as in 1980. This worked out to over 12.1 million women in 2012; the number of male smokers, by contrast, was 98 million in that year.
The study, “Smoking Prevalence and Cigarette Consumption in 187 countries, 1980-2012,” will be published on January 8 in a special ‘tobacco’ issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
IHME, an independent global health research organisation, arrived at its estimates — covering all ages — on the basis of on a wide range of data sources, including in-country surveys, government statistics, and World Health Organisation data. Previous estimates have typically focused on fewer data sources and a limited age range.
Despite the lowered prevalence among men, smoking leads to nearly a million deaths in India annually. “Smoking rates remain dangerously high for men and there is more work to be done to drive these rates lower,” Dr Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, said.
Speaking from Bangalore, National Cancer Registry Programme director Dr A Nandakumar said the number of women smokers was troubling, and that the new research corroborated the findings of the programme’s report on “Time Trends in Cancer Incidence Rates, 1982-2010”, released recently.
“Annually there is an increase in the incidence of lung cancer among women. For instance, the annual percentage change in the incidence rates of lung cancer is 0.8 per cent in Mumbai, 2.4 per cent in Delhi, 4.1 per cent in Bangalore and 4.9 per cent in Chennai. The age group of women is 35-44 years. In some cities, younger women have taken to smoking in a big way,” Nandakumar said.
Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi of Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital said according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey of 2010, 35 per cent of Indians above the age of 15 consumed tobacco in some form. Twenty-one per