Catch them young: Targeted marketing of tobacco to young women

Alice Tembe, CNS Correspondent, Swaziland
In this era of social networking and global world existence, life styles are defined by what is fashionable— be it the dress they wear, songs they sing and the food they eat. Young people from all over the world do not want to be left behind but rather be centre stage of whatever is touted as ‘cool and trendy’.

Tobacco companies are riding on this global mindset, and introducing the so called slim, modern, sophisticated and independent line of cigarettes just for young women; and since smoking is habitual and addictive a generation will be recruited for life.

A briefing by the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), in keeping with the International Women's Day on 8 March, expresses that out of the 1 billion tobacco users worldwide, 250 million women are smokers. Although the number of female smokers has fallen in high-income countries in recent years, in low- and middle-income countries the number is now rising significantly as the tobacco industry aggressively targets this sector of the market, especially younger women.

Dr Mira Aghi, a noted tobacco control expert of the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), explained in a recent webinar organised by CNS, that tobacco use effects on women are different from men and are rather more adverse. Smoking during pregnancy, can result in sudden infant death syndrome, apart from increased risk of lung health complications for both mother and child. Smoking has been strongly associated with increase in cervical cancer and breast cancer among women. It also results in a 25% increase in coronary heart disease.

Smoking among adolescents is quickly becoming a ‘cool trait’, being mostly fuelled by tobacco companies tactics of falsely projecting it as a sign of maturity, independence and strength. And more and more young girls are falling into the trap of tobacco use—be it cigarettes or the latest fad of smoking hookah/sheesha. One young female adolescent was quoted saying, “All my friends smoke after school where we hang out; it is expected that I also bring cigarettes to share even though I do not really enjoy it”.

Unfortunately, most women, in particular young girls, have little to no comprehension of the adverse health effects of tobacco. Advertisements and promotion programmes by tobacco companies have depicted smoking as a very fashionable habit for trendy women in this generation and if left unchecked, this behaviour will carry on to generations to come and the preventive work that has been going on in the past decades will be reversed.

As tobacco companies are leaving no stone unturned to tailor-make tobacco use for women, international and national policies will need to elevate their tobacco control regulations. Programming will need to also strengthen gender mainstreaming to ensure that the needs of women are addressed, and that research focuses on effects of tobacco for women and girls and best ways to reach them for awareness and education.

Alice Tembe, Citizen News Service - CNS
March 8, 2016