Tobacco Industry continues targeting ASEAN women

SMOKING among young women and girls in Southeast Asia continues to rise at an alarming rate, the direct result, regional anti-tobacco advocates say, of deliberate, focused marketing by the global tobacco industry. “Women in Southeast Asia are doubly targeted by tobacco companies,” says Ms. Bungon Ritthiphakdee, director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA). “They are in the crosshairs for being women as well as for being Southeast Asians.” With anti-tobacco policies and regulations becoming more stringent in other countries and continents, she explained, “tobacco companies see Southeast Asia as a key growth market; meanwhile, they see women and the youth as huge undeveloped consumer bases that can expand their reach beyond the traditional market of adult men.”

This is precisely why this year’s WHO World No Tobacco Day on 31 May2010 is themed around “Gender and Tobacco With an Emphasis on Marketing to Women”, the SEATCA director said, and why the theme holds particular relevance in Southeast Asia.  SEATCA said the Tobacco Atlas predicts that by 2025, 20 percent of the global female population will be smokers, up from 12 percent in 2005. This trend is a direct reflection and manifestation of the tobacco industry’s deliberate targeting of women and the youth.  For example in Indonesia, the industry has come up with expensive campaigns, depicting glamour, freedom, power and sophistication, clearly focusing on what women want to create and aspire for themselves.  
Public exposure to tobacco advertising and promotion is highest in Cambodia and Indonesia (over 70 percent) where there are no bans, and in the Philippines where only a partial ban is in place.  Findings from the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia also show that exposure to tobacco advertising increases the likelihood of smoking by 200 to 300 percent.  16 percent of girls in the Philippines and 15 percent of girls in Indonesia were exposed to promotional activities such as offering free cigarettes, and are more likely to smoke than those who were not.  Tobacco sponsored concerts and events relevant to women and girls are among the activities foisted by tobacco companies to appeal to female consumers.  Constant exposure to a wide variety of advertisements in the mass media  (TV, radio, and emerging new media-viral, social marketing) and in public spaces (gigantic billboards, posters on lamp posts and bus stops) normalizes cigarettes and leads to higher acceptance of smoking, and will more likely make them pick up and maintain the habit.SEATCA also notes how cigarette packaging has become a powerful marketing tactic of the industry targeting women, particularly in Indonesia, Malaysia and Laos. There is a definite trend towards feminization of cigarette designs and packaging. The emergence of lipstick-type cigarette packs, use of pastel colors and floral designs, and skinny cigarettes to appeal to young women. Packs are slim to fit into women’s purses. The industry has also come up with fruity scents and flavored cigarettes to mask the smoke and align the cigarettes closer to perfumes and sweets. There is also a proliferation of Light and Mild cigarettes to make cigarettes appear “less hazardous” and more appealing to women, and associating tobacco products to fashion and feminine lifestyles in ads.“Countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, must protect their citizens and implement comprehensive bans on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and only then can they hope to slow the threat of a deadly epidemic, specially for vulnerable groups such as the women and youth”, said Dr. Mary Assunta, SEATCA Senior Policy Advisor. “Dirty tactics of the tobacco companies must be halted and priority must be given to the implementation of strong tobacco control measures in line with the global health treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”, Dr. Assunta adds. ENDS.For more information:“Smoking Among Girls and Young Women in ASEAN Countries:  A Regional Summary”
Full report available from:

Other SEATCA country researches on Smoking in Young Women and Girls (Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam): 

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