8 March 2019
A regional anti-tobacco organisation on Thursday warned women against falling for a campaign by tobacco companies to lure women to acquire the deadly smoking habit.
The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) said the industry has been unrelenting in targeting women and girls, especially in Southeast Asia.
“Internal tobacco industry documents reveal that the tobacco industry is notorious in targeting women and girls through ads and novel products that promote social desirability, independence, sophistication, glamour, romance, fun, and weight control,” said Mary Assunta, senior policy adviser of the group.
While smoking rates among females remain relatively low, they are higher among adolescent girls than among adult women in the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand – 9.1 percent versus 5.8pc, 2.4pc versus 1.4pc, and 5.2pc versus 1.7pc, respectively.
In Myanmar, 6.4pc of females smoked in 2015, according to the World Bank.
SEATCA said women and girls, especially in low and middle-income countries are smoking in greater numbers than ever before. “The tobacco industry needs to recruit new smokers to increase its profits, so it introduces new marketing devices and imagery to appeal to women and young girls,” it said.
A common technique used by transnational tobacco companies is introducing product characteristics on packaging and labelling, and promoting product innovations, such as flavoured capsules and flavoured filters, it added.
It also focuses on product designs and characteristics, including filters, capsules, flavours, shape, colour and perceived product strength or mildness, it said.
In Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, some brands sell cigarettes in super slim “lipstick” packs. Female-targeted cigarettes are also packaged in slimmer packages to influence beliefs about smoking and weight control – an important predictor of smoking behaviour among women.
In Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam “Less Smoke Smell” technology has been used to promote cigarettes by reducing secondhand smoke odour or visibility. Small packs (with 10 to 12 sticks) are also available in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Flavour capsules in cigarettes are becoming an increasingly popular way to increase the attractiveness of smoking. Some cigarettes sold in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam have capsule filters that can be crushed to release additional menthol or other flavouring.
“Despite all the rhetoric from tobacco companies that they are concerned about smoking and now have new safer products, the bulk of their profits come from selling regular cigarettes, and they are continuing to aggressively market them to the young. It’s absurd when tobacco companies project activities around gender equity,” said Assunta.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a woman’s risk of dying from smoking has more than tripled and is now equal to men’s risk. Smoking puts women at risk of heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, emphysema, and other chronic illnesses.