World Anti-Tobacco Day: Village Women Reveal Shockers On Why They Smoke

Last updated 31 May 2018 . 1 min read

why women smoke why women smoke

India has a population of more than 140 million smokers. And we are a country that comprises 12% of the world’s smokers. Nothing to be proud of, considering we are also among the top nations with cancer patients. But this WORLD ANTI-TOBACCO DAY, my worry is confined to the women smokers. Why? Let me explain stepwise...

When I see my female counterparts blowing off rings of tobacco smoke around me daily, I shudder at the thought of harmful effects their bodies will face in the long run.

Decreased bone density, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Cataract, Gum Decay, Ulcers, Depression, heavy breathlessness and menstrual problems (heavy and painful bleeding, etc) are just the tip of the iceberg. Women smokers have a hard time not only in getting pregnant but are also at very high risk of abortion and even SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome also called 'crib death'). What more, women smokers are also likely to hit Menopause at a much younger age than non-smokers.

Despite this, as per the latest survey in 2016, in India alone about 8% women smoke. And this data is an overall percentage pan India, combining urban and rural population. Yes, we all have seen village women as well as women from villages working as labourers bellowing up rounds of smoke while at work. The only difference is between what urban and village women smoke. While the former puff away cigarettes (comprising of 0.5 gm to 1 gm of tobacco plus an average 10 mg of nicotine), village women are under the illusion that they are on a safer side smoking BIDIS. But actually, these tobaccos rolled in leaves, are worse than Cigarettes since Nicotine concentrations in the Bidis (21.2 mg/gm) are significantly higher. In Cigarettes, it ranges from 10-17 mg/gm. But do they care? I mean the village women? No, they don't. How am I saying this so assertively? Because I have spoken to many in my career as a journalist spanning over 15 years...

And this year on WORLD ANTI-TOBACCO DAY I decided to figure out why village women smoke. The urban lasses, most of them being my former colleagues, have had given me a reason like - it looks cool, peer pressure, networking, stress buster, energiser etc. What are the excuses (I would call smoking an excuse, an escapism...whatever be their reasons) that village women have?

I spoke to some ten village women from all age groups, across the globe, even though translators in last one month to collect and analyze the real reason below, as to why village women smoke. And mind it, when I told them about the harmful effects, strangely most of them knew many of the bad health results listed above, including cancer; and they are not ready to quit!


60-year-old Nairasa Boomba is a labourer in the Luvale plains of remote western Zambia, Africa. She writes to me through a translator, " I have five children and their spouses. To ensure that the house runs well, we all have to earn. It really gets hot here and Sun sucks away all our energy. I began smoking with a co-worker, to bear tiredness, since she told me it would feel better after a puff or two. And now I enjoy smoking. My daughters-in-law also smoke. I know it is bad for health; I have mouth ulcers, but we have no option....for the work to go on tirelessly we do it and now it has become a habit."


Jual Looma is a 26-year-old pretty village lass who works at my friend's tea gardens in Assam, India. Jual has been smoking Bidi since the age of nine!

Jual tells me on phone, "Both men and women smoke Bidis in our family. My father would do this to get rid of exhaustion and also after beating up my mother. My Mom would do it out of frustration after the beating to avenge him. My brother does it to impress his girlfriend who is now his wife. So I also started smoking, since it runs in the family; it is our tradition."

While she goes on elaborating that 'smoking runs in their blood', I pity the fact that she calls a bad habit a family tradition. I ask her about health. She tells me she has dry cough often, but now it is too late to quit. And when I counter her saying we can help, if she is willing to quit, she puts down the phone! Such is the addiction level. Poor Jual...and her 'family tradition.'


Yes, in extremely remote villages of India, where my other teammates travel for news coverage, this reason why women smoke is heart-wrenching.

Sudha Modha is a 45-year-old housewife and mother to six in the remote hinterlands of Naxal infested Chhattisgarh. Through a fellow reporter, she informed me," We hardly have one meal a day. Bidi is cheaper than food, it kills hunger pangs." I have seen poverty very closely during my stint as a correspondent with ANI, but this revelation stung my heart....deep, very deep.


"I somehow feel happy when I smoke, I feel, alive. Even my husband tells me that I am a better person the days I smoke," informs Susan Patrona a 30-year old mother of two from Supai Village, Arizona, United States, within the Grand Canyon.

When the translator asks her if she is facing any health complications after she began smoking, pat comes the reply, "Please don't get into this. I might cry, I had a third child who died, Doctors say she died because I smoke, but I know it was God's call."

I look up at the sky and pray, God please this woman and like her, with wisdom to save their respective lives from the TOBACCO MONSTER!


This reason was given to me by 70-year-old Bupen D'costa of Boondooma in Australia. Bupen is a basket maker there. Her family of three succumbed to an unknown disease in 1999. Since then she has been on her own. And smokes to stay awake, especially in a muggy weather, to ensure she earns enough. Little does she know that the Nicotine intake is pushing her to insomnia. What she is calling "I don't feel sleepy" is actually insomnia. I inform her the same, but she says, "Kid one day I will sleep forever, till then let me be who I am, a happy, hard-working woman, who loves to tell stories at night to kids in the neighborhood." And I am left speechless.


Alifa Begum is a 40-year-old Benarasi Saree weaver in a village near Varanasi, India. She is famous for her unique designs in India and is among the highest paid weavers of the region. And she puffs about 10-15 Bidis a day! "Well, it helps me concentrate. With every puff, blood goes into my brain, I feel charged up with energy as well as new ideas. And once more tobaccos go in, I become more alert and focused at my work. You know it is not easy to be the best," she smiles with pride and goes on till her husband Shafi Mirza lambasts her and informs me that she has had a benign tumour removal from her mouth, but she doesn't stop! And I am left engrossed deep in my thoughts as well as helplessness.


"Are aap log gossip nahi karte, chai par charcha types? Hum bhi karte hain Bidi par charcha! (Don't you urban folk gossip over tea, we do the same over a smoke)," laughs 52 year-old Chandra Pookutty who works at spice farms of Kerala in India. Her 43-year-old sister Ila, a ragpicker, asserts, "When you smoke with them, all secrets fall out from their mouths."

I inform them about the harmful effects of smoking considering that Ila has no child even after 20 years of marriage. She is left stunned, she didn't know. Her village has just paramedics. But then she thinks a little and responds," I don't have regular menstruation cycles now, so what's the use of putting. Whatever harm had to be done, is done; we all anyway have to die one day." However, Chandra assured me she will force her sister to quit if this is the reason behind her not conceiving a child.


"I get bored, I have nothing to do. My mother doesn't let me do anything except wash clothes at home and cook. Thus, to kill time I smoke. I am not allowed to go out when she is at work. My brother used to smoke, I picked up leftover butts and that's how I began. My mother doesn't know, but she won't mind since she too smokes with her land-labour group," informs Latina Yes Choo, a teenager from a village in China where my friend has his mother working on his farmland. My friend informed her mother and these days the duo is undergoing rehab, thanks to him.   


23-year-old Adila D'ville is a rope walker who earns her living side-living by doing menial chores seaside farms in the rural lands of Croatia. She runs a family of five, after her father died. She informs through her translator (and my close friend John), " My instructor introduced me to smoking, it gives us courage when the rope is tied between two cliffs. It gives me the needed high."

And when a frustrated me tells her that 'this high' is taking her up 'to a different high', she tells John that though she feels it is the need of her job, she will try to implement our advice. John assures me she will try help out.

#10. SO WHAT?

"So what if I smoke? Do only YOU urban women have the liberty to do so? I like it, I do it. So what? What troubles you?" This last question as reason was thrown at me by 16-year-old Salma, whom I happened to meet at a bus stand in Himachal Pradesh India. She is almost half my age.  And I tried to explain what troubles me, but like a true-blue addict she blew off circles of smoke into my face, laughed and ran away.

I wanted to say, "Salma stop. Smoking was never a taboo for anyone, but actual and way to hell! Little one, please stop. Lend me an ear." But her mind like those of the above is so clouded by the bellows of Tobacco, that nothing falls on their so-called deaf ears. But that doesn't mean you and I must not stop smokers from drying themselves to slow death. Every effort to bring them to a normal life counts...Let's stay active, stay off smoke and motivate others the same, not just on WORLD ANTI-TOBACCO DAY, but through the year, through our lives.

Mahima Sharma
An award-winning Independent Journalist & Content Curator based in New Delhi. She is Ex-News Editor, CNN-News18 and ANI (a collaboration with Reuters) who comes with an experience of 14 years in Print, TV and Digital Journalism. She is the only Indian who finds a mention in the Writers' Club of Country Squire Magazine, United Kingdom. Sufi at heart, she also has some 30 poems to her credit at various reputed international podiums.

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