Tobacco industry targets women in Asia

Bangkok, 7 March 2019: As the world commemorates International Women’s Day on 8 March, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) puts the spotlight on how the tobacco industry continues to extensively target women and girls especially in the ASEAN region.

“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, glamor, romance, fun, and weight control,” said Dr. Mary Assunta, Senior Policy Advisor of SEATCA.

While smoking prevalence among females remain relatively low, smoking rates among adolescent girls in Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand are higher than the rate among adult women respectively (9.1% vs 5.8%; 2.4% vs 1.4%; 5.2% vs 1.7%).

Women and girls especially in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) are smoking in greater numbers than ever before. The tobacco industry needs to recruit new smokers to increase its profit and introduce new ways framed as “innovation” by refreshing brand marketing devices and imagery to appeal to women and young girls.

This is the common strategy and technique used by transnational tobacco companies (TTCs) in introducing product characteristics on packaging, labeling and promotion of product innovation such as flavored capsules and flavored filters. Approach used in product development also focuses on specific product designs and characteristics including filters, capsules, flavours, shape, color and perceived product’s strength or mildness.

Below are some of the tobacco industry’s deceptive tactics (see images) to promote smoking particularly among women and girls:

  • In Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, some brands sell cigarettes in super slim “Lipstick” Packs. Female-targeted elegant slims or super slim cigarettes are also packaged in slimmer packages and influences beliefs about smoking and weight control – an important predictor of smoking behavior among women.
  • In Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam “Less smoke smell (LSS)” technology has been used to promote cigarettes designed to reduce secondhand smoke odor or visibility. Kiddie packs (with 10 to 12 sticks) are also available in Indonesia and the Philippines.
  • Flavor capsules in cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular and increase 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 flavoring solutions.
  • Eye-catching colors are used in cigarette packaging and labeling to represent different cigarette flavors and strength or smoothness within brand families. The brand image is strengthened by attention-grabbing designs and bright colors to indicate different flavors (such as blueberry, berry, strawberry, orange, strawberry and apple) and communicate the false impression of lower tar or milder cigarette. Gold and silver are normally used to convey ‘low-tar’, green for menthol and blue for ‘light’ and to reflect ice and cooling.

“Despite all the rhetoric from tobacco companies that they are suddenly concerned about smoking and now have new safer products, however the bulk of their profits comes from selling regular cigarettes and they are continuing to aggressively market regular cigarettes 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 (CDC), 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 for heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, emphysema, and other serious chronic illnesses such as diabetes.

Preventing an epidemic of tobacco-related diseases among women in the LMICs is one of the greatest public health opportunities for governments of our time. Governments should take more seriously the recommendations in the global health treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) that includes introducing plain packaging which requires cigarette packs to be sold in a standardized size, shape, and drab brown color, free of any logos or images and only brand names will be allowed in a standardized font type, size, color, and location.

In September 2019, Thailand’s standardized packaging regulation will start to take effect and Singapore will soon follow.  Standardized packaging reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products, increases the effectiveness of graphic health warnings, and reduces the ability of tobacco packaging to mislead consumers about tobacco’s many harmful effects.

Other important solutions contained in the FCTC that countries must implement are: comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorships such as pack displays, ban on kiddie packs and single-stick sale, 100% smoke-free policies, and high tobacco taxes.


Wendell C Balderas, Media and Communications Manager – SEATCA
Email: | Mobile: +63 999 881 2117 ##

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SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the evidence-based tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control movements in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014.


TABINAJ, the alliance of women against tobacco, endorses the statement of SEATCA on the occasion of the International Women’s Day 2019. We would like to express our solidarity with women’s movement against all kinds of violence, discrimination and deception. We condemn the efforts of the Tobacco Industry to target women in using their harmful products. The Tobacco industry has been active in targeting women even before. However due to cultural and social norms, in Bangladesh, the smoking prevalence among women is very low, 0.8% compared to 36.2% among men. However, the prevalence of smokeless tobacco among women is high i.e. 24.8% according to the latest Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS, 2017). But the tobacco industry, both British American Tobacco (BAT) and Philip Morris International (PMI) have been targeting young urban women, particularly those in the Universities for smoking with attractive cigarette products and gifts. PMI’s initiative to celebrate International Women’s Day is an insult to women’s movement. 

Farida Akhter

Convenor, TABINAJ