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Harmful effects of tobacco marketing and smoke on women and girls

08 June 2010 -- World No Tobacco Day 2010 draws particular attention to female smokers. Women and girls are a major target for the tobacco industry.

Transcript of the podcast

Veronica Riemer: You're listening to the WHO podcast and my name is Veronica Riemer. In this episode we look at the harmful effects of tobacco marketing and smoke on women and girls.

World No Tobacco Day 2010 draws particular attention to female smokers. Women make up about 20% of the world's one billion smokers. However, tobacco use among women is increasing in many countries. Women are a major target for the tobacco industry, which is recruiting new users to replace current users who will die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases. Nancy Brinker, WHO's Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control tells us her message for World No Tobacco Day.

Goodwill Ambassador Nancy Brinker: The tobacco epidemic killed 100 million people in the 20th century and threatens to kill one billion more in the 21st - more than malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV combined. But by calling attention to this rising death toll, we are ringing the alarm bell and forcing world leaders to take notice. World No Tobacco Day can help us turn what currently is a funeral march into a celebration of life. Tobacco and women’s health are directly linked, since tobacco is especially devastating to women and young girls. Because women are the centre of our communities, the ones who do the teaching, childrearing, and nurturing we are right to make them the centre of our work in public health.

Veronica Riemer: The increasing number of women starting to smoke poses a growing threat to their health, especially in the low-income countries that can least afford to cope with the consequences. Ms Margaretha Haglund is a member of the executive board of the International Network of Women Against Tobacco. She talks about the tobacco marketing strategies.

Ms Margaretha Haglund: It was not until the 1920s that the tobacco industry actually started to target women and the President of American Tobacco said in 1928, "it would be like opening a new gold mine right in our front yard if women started to smoke". We know about the ruthless marketing strategies from the tobacco industry that have invaded country after country to get women hooked on tobacco and the themes are very similar from that time until today. And we can talk about the tobacco industry's four "As" to get women hooked on tobacco. It is to make cigarettes smoking:

  • aspirational, desirable and fashionable
  • acceptable, socially and culturally
  • accessible, available and affordable
  • and of course addictive to addict them to a long term behaviour that they will never get rid of, many of them.

Veronica Riemer: Dr Armando Peruga works for the WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative. He tells us how the tobacco industry specifically targets women through its marketing efforts.

Armando Peruga: They do it many ways, by the designing products that are attractive to women, by using special shapes of the boxes that resemble some perfume boxes, by using colours especially pink or using flavours that will make the tobacco more palatable to women.

They will also do it by linking their products to values that women [many] aspire to such as independence and liberation. The tobacco industry will make you love it, they will pay for advertising to target women, they will organize parties for you with free samples, in order to get the product introduced to women. They will place their products in movies and TV shows and have your favourite stars smoke on camera which has proved to be very effective in starting smoking in youth, both male and female and they will also sponsor your favourite concerts, or they will sponsor different sports events.

If that is not enough, they will donate to your favourite cause and make sure you know about their donation. For example, we have a case of a very well-known tobacco company that is donating here in Switzerland to a campaign against domestic violence. They will also place their products in fashion shows, they will name clothing and stores after their brand so you won't forget it and those brands and products are always present in any aspect of your life.

Futhermore, they will create cosmetics with the brand names, such as perfumes. They will organize sweepstakes to get all the jewels that you ever wanted. They will make sure that the product is advertised and present but accessible and affordable, and they will advertise through the internet, they will make it available at stores, on the street; anything to allow you to enjoy their products as soon as possible.

Veronica Riemer: That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. For more information about our work on tobacco control, please see the links on the transcript page of this podcast. For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.

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