Women & Tobacco:
global outrage, global resistance

May 2002

As the responses to last month's question underscore, the tobacco industry targets, uses, abuses, and kills women around the world in many, many ways. Women who harvest tobacco often develop Green Tobacco Sickness and lose their food security (Kenya). An 18-year-old student describes her experience as a walking advertisement for multinational cigarette brands (Ukraine). Asian American women are disproportionately exposed to tobacco smoke pollution at home and on the job (USA). A female character in an Asian film chain smokes Marlboro (Taiwan).

The good news is that the resistance is growing. Tough tobacco control legislation has helped keep smoking rates among women very low (Thailand). An edgy website has been launched to expose and attack the industry's targeting of women (Canada). Hardhitting, heartwrenching ads in women magazines feature the last letters that a woman dying of emphysema writes to her family (USA).

Around the world, the tobacco industry markets female emancipation through the cigarette. Let's emancipate women and girls from the tobacco industry!


Responses, in alphabetical order by country:

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Ajnija Omanic, Medical Faculty University in Sarajevo
The tobacco industry is in a campaign to globalize smoking among women in B & H. The tobacco industry promotes smoking as a symbol of "female emancipation." Cigarette use may be becoming a way for young women to show that they are modern, and may also help them obtain the body images of extreme slimness portrayed on TV and in popular magazines. The main messages are smoking makes women thinner [and] independent. In B & H, prevalence of smoking among the population is 53% for men and 38% for women. The prevalence of smoking among nurses (Tuzla, 1995) is 58.3%.

CAMEROON - Alphonse ISSI, MNC Cameroon
In our country, the tobacco industry simply targets all young people - male and female alike. There is are no campaigns that target women in particular. On our part, we try to thwart promotion of tobacco by targeting young people with campaigns against tobacco advertising and sponsorship of sports popular with youth.

On May 13, 2002 a Canadian-based group launched an edgy website to counter the tobacco industry's targeting of women. An excerpt from their press release:

(Ottawa) - Sluts Against Butts, a group of women bent on holding the tobacco industry responsible for the death, disease, and addiction it causes, today announced the launch of their website.
      What do sluts have to do with smoking? "Tobacco companies see rebellious girls and women as easy targets for marketing campaigns," said Lara Lola. "We're here to tell them that bad girls can't be bought."
       "The tobacco industry knows that women want to be independent, so they market smoking as an act of liberation," added fellow slut Roxy Sabre. "But there's nothing liberating about being suckered by a multinational company - especially one whose products make you dependent and weak."
       The site features incriminating ads and quotes from tobacco execs and downloadable tools for subverting them, as well as polls, quizzes, an alias generator, and other fun stuff.

Submitted by: Neil Collishaw, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada

COSTA RICO - Doug Blanke, William Mitchell College of Law (USA - MN)
"Derby" empowers women to beat men in arm-wrestling contests? See photo

IRAN - Nizal Saraf-Zadegan, Isfahan Cardiovascular Research Center
The Center just finished a research project and public awareness program entitled "A Comprehensive Tobacco Control and Prevention Program Among Iranian Women and Adolescent"

KENYA - Joe Asila, SocialNEEDS Network
Tobacco agriculture has multiple adverse impacts on women, who form the core of farm and leaf factory labor: poor health, environmental degradation & pollution, labor exploitation, and reduced food security. Body contact with green leaves during harvesting can result in Green Tobacco Sickness, with symptoms such as vomiting, dizziness, and skin irritation. Pregnant women who complain risk being fired. Since unemployment is high, tobacco companies often infringe upon the rights of workers.
     Tobacco cultivation leads to deforestation. As the surrounding forests get chopped down for tobacco-farming purposes, women have to go further and further to gather wood for cooking. The farmer, his wife and the children are so engaged in tending the farm during the cycle of tobacco farming that there is scarcely any time to spare for other crops.
     In one survey, a farmer earned Ksh. 200,000/= (USD 3,000) after having worked in the farm for 10 months with his wife and four children. This is not enough money to provide for food, education, shelter, and medical services, as well as savings. The result is that education, medical services and savings are often forgone to concentrate on food and shelter. Child labour and school dropout is common in tobacco growing zones -- especially among girls.

The recent Taiwanese film "Millennium Mambo," which features a chain-smoking female, is one long advertisement for Marlboro Lights. The main character literally cannot eat her dinner without inhaling a Marlboro between bites. Marlboro product placement is rampant throughout. A film targeting Asian females? And in the recent Senegalese film "Faatu Kine," which features a strong, independent woman who runs a successful gas station in Dakar, smoking is used to symbolize modernity and female emancipation. Several scenes involve conversations related to smoking. In one, Faatu Kine's elderly mother chides her for smoking, reinforcing smoking as a modern woman's habit.
For more info: awhite@essential.org

THAILAND - Kobkul Srivongcharoen, SEA Alliance Support - ASH Thailand
Luckily, we do not have any significant advertising targeting women in Thailand. Thailand's strong tobacco control laws and active tobacco control movement have helped to keep women's smoking prevalence down in contrast to other countries in Asia. However the increasing presence of the transnational tobacco companies in Thailand is already seeing an impact on smoking rates amongst young women. Young Thai women are increasingly attracted to western cigarette brands, especially to Marlboro and also menthol and 'light' cigarettes. Young women feel that imported cigarettes are more sophisticated and 'upper class' than local cigarettes.
     In the last 2 years, smoking rates among Thai women have increased from 0.3% to 0.6%. We know that Thai women are a largely untapped market to the tobacco industry. In order to reinforce the traditional non-smoking values of Thai women the "New-generation Women Don't Smoke" programme was set up in 1995. It aims to counter the tobacco companies efforts to get women to take up smoking. The project focuses on the effects of smoking on beauty and on childrens' health. See photos & more info about ASH Thailand's women-focused campaigns.

UKRAINE - Lisa Houston, Ukrainian State Maritime Technical University
Recently Lisa interviewed Viktoria Pleskachova, an 18-year-old student of the Ukrainian State Maritime Technical University. In the summer of 2001, Vika advertised cigarettes on the main pedestrian street in Nikolayev. She dressed in stylish clothing provided by the cigarette manufacturer and approached passersby, trying to persuade them to trade the pack of cigarettes they were smoking for a full pack of the brand she was offering. Here's an excerpt:

Q. What company did you work for?
V. Mostly JTI – Japan Tobacco International, and there were also Santa Carlo cigarettes, Winston.
Q. And the young men and women that worked with you; were they also about your age?
V. Yes, everyone was about 18 years of age since it’s illegal to work if one is younger, but in general they try to attract young women to work for them.
Q. What did you think of the uniform you were supposed to wear?
V. I didn’t really like the uniform for Monte Carlo, the hats were terrible…. We wore hats, t-shirts, backpacks…nothing special.
Q. Did anyone ever come up and hassle you about advertising cigarettes?
V. There was one woman from some kind of health center that came up and lectured me that I’m so pretty and could have found myself a better job, but I told her, “Offer me a better job that pays well that also makes allowances for my studies, and I’ll agree!” And there were a lot of other people as well, mostly elderly people, who were loudly against my selling cigarettes…but I left that job, I don’t do it anymore.
Q. Was it because of that, or was that one of the reasons?
V. Well, the thing is, I agreed with that lady. Therefore, how can I contradict her? I agree that it’s better not to smoke. That’s why I would say that it’s just my job; it’s just how I’m making money.
See photo and full interview

URUGUAY - Adriana Menendez, Sindicato Medico del Uruguay
We are pained to admit that we have not dealt specifically with the tobacco advertising assault directed at women. In particular, the brand "Montana" seems to target women with deceptive advertising. As for concrete actions that we are taking in our country, we have begun working on a campaign to prohibit all tobacco advertising. We know it won't be easy, and that the "stones" will come from many directions. We feel that this is a special historical moment. Probably in the future, we will call on GPTC members who are in this struggle worldwide to support our campaign.

USA - CA - Karen Rezai, Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations
Since rates of tobacco use of AAPI women here in the U.S. are traditionally lower than AAPI males, they are seen as an area of potential "growth" for the industry. The Virginia Slims "Find Your Voice" campaign ads featured an Asian woman with heavy face paint and silk robes. The message was that women can become acculturated by smoking, but also maintain "traditional" parts of their heritage. Excerpt from APPEAL publication:

"Tennis star Michael Chang, who has played in tobacco sponsored tournaments, is a teen idol among AAPI girls, and a symbol of athletic influence and Western lifestyle. Cigarette ads and brands, such as Virginia Slims and Newport Lights, also associate smoking with thinness, sex appeal, empowerment, and an escape from the multiple demands placed on AAPI women by their families and society.
      AAPI women occupy a higher proportion of service-industry jobs and are less able to control the smoke in their environment at home and at work. Waitresses are four times as likely to die from lung cancer and 2.5 times as likely to die from heart disease compared to other women.
      And since many AAPI males smoke, their spouses and families are also impacted. AAPI women with spouses who smoke are at an increased risk for disease and death resulting from secondhand smoke." See full text
USA: Legacy Targets Women Smokers by Wendy Melillo (AdWeek, May 7, 2002)

For the first time, The American Legacy Foundation will target adult women smokers in a new campaign that is set to break in June issues of womens' magazines. Based on a true story, the first ad in the campaign, "Letters," features a woman dying of emphysema who writes farewell letters to family members and tobacco companies. In the work, Linda, a New York woman, writes three letters. "We're running out of tomorrows," she writes to her three children. "I'm so proud of you." To her husband, she writes, "I'm so sorry my smoking will cheat us out of 20 or 30 more years together." To tobacco companies: "We know you are in this for the money. We are in it for our lives and the lives of our loved ones. And we will win!" To read about the women featured in the campaign go to:

From the Philip Morris website: "Every year, we contribute millions of dollars to hundreds of domestic violence service providers across the United States to strengthen the safety net available to the victims and survivors of this horrible crime." [If Philip Morris REALLY cared about women, we all know what the company could do...] Straight to the source: http://www.philipmorris.com/philanthropy/dom_violence/dom_violence.asp

USA: from [doc-alert] RJR: Marketing to women (June 4, 2002)
These notes from an RJR marketing meeting list various ideas for new cigarette designs, including Project HIP, a cigarette tailored especially to appeal to women, whose advertising would depict "Female
aggressor in male/female situation." The cigarette ad campaign would "position women as independent and in control in provocative situations," "exploit the anti-fashion trend," and possibly have "pearlescent filter tipping." The cigarette would be "built for the way women smoke -- e.g. smaller, more frequent puffs." Even the pack would be especially adapted for women: "Use a slide pack -- more elegant ritual to remove cigarette." URL: http://tobaccodocuments.org/landman/506656657-6667.html#images
Source: Anne Landman

YUGOSLAVIA - Andjelka Dzeletovic, Institute of Public Health of Serbia
For now there is no specific campaign targeting the female population in
Yugoslavia. In the next months I'm planning on analyzing data regarding
tobacco and women. In Yugoslavia, there are big problems related to
second hand smoking. There is also a big problem with women smoking
during pregnancy. One of the next actions in Serbia should target the
two previously mentioned problems.


U.S. Surgeon General's Report: Women and Smoking 2001

The International Network of Women Against Tobacco (INWAT)

Essential Action
Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control

P.O. Box 19405 ~ Washington, DC 20036
Tel: +1 202-387-8030 ~ Fax: +1 202-234-5176
Email: tobacco@essential.org