An analysis in 74 countries found that men are five times more likely to smoke than women in countries with lower rates of female empowerment, such as China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Uganda.
In countries with relatively high female empowerment, such as Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden and the United States, this gap is small and women smoke almost as much as men do.
Douglas Bettcher, director of the World Health Organization (WHO) tobacco free initiative, said the findings showed the need for authorities to act quickly to curb smoking rates among women, particularly in poorer countries.
Tobacco kills up to half its users and is described by the WHO as "one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced." The annual death toll linked to tobacco is more than five million, experts say, and could rise beyond eight million by 2030 unless action is taken to control smoking.
The study estimated that men smoke nearly five times as much as women worldwide, but the ratios of female-to-male smoking prevalence rates vary dramatically.