Smoking prevalence among Indian women doubled in five years, study finds

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 08 December 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7512
  1. Cheryl Travasso
  1. 1Mumbai

Between 2005 and 2009 the prevalence of smoking among women in India more than doubled from 1.4% to 2.9%, a study has found.

Over the same time smoking among men significantly fell from 33.4% to 24.3% (P<0.001), causing the ratio of male to female smoking prevalence to fall from 23.9 to 8.4, the findings showed.1

The study analysed data from five nationally representative studies conducted over the past two decades. It found that since 2005 the percentage of women who smoked rose in all Indian states apart from Punjab, Maharashtra, and Kerala.

Prevalence of smoking was lower among women who were more affluent. States with a higher gross domestic product per capita, such as Maharashtra, Delhi, Kerala, and Goa, had a lower prevalence of female smoking (near zero) than states with a lower gross domestic product per capita, such as Mizoram, Sikkim, and Nagaland (19%, 15.9%, and 12.4% respectively).

The analysis also showed a higher prevalence of smoking among illiterate women, which fell with increasing years of education. In 1998 prevalence rates were 4% among illiterate women and 0.1% among those with 10 or more years of education. In 2009, 6% of illiterate women smoked, whereas the proportion of those with 10 or more years of education who smoked remained the same. The report did not differentiate between conventional cigarettes and bidis, smoking of which might differ based on affluence and education.

Lead author Sonu Goel, from the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, told The BMJ that the prevalence of smoking among men had perhaps reached its peak and was slowly beginning to taper off. But given the lower prevalence among women, this increase in female smokers could be the start of a disturbing trend, he added. He pointed to a need for gender based policies to make sure that smoking rates among women did not rise further. He said that he hoped the Indian health ministry’s recent efforts towards banning the sale of loose cigarettes would serve as a dampener, particularly for the large majority of women in the lower socioeconomic classes.2


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7512


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