Tobacco firms targeting ads at young Asian women
HONGKONG - Cigarette companies are targeting young Asian women and teenage girls in a campaign to persuade them to take up smoking, and this is causing concern among public health authorities across the continent, according to a report in the latest issue
The companies are using the same marketing tactics that they employed to encourage women in Western countries to light up.
According to Reader's Digest, young women in Taiwan, China and Malaysia are the current major targets of the cigarette companies.
Asia presents a vast market of 320 million teenage girls and women - and only 5 per cent of them smoke.
Ms Mary Assunta, Malaysia's top anti- tobacco campaigner, was quoted by the magazine as saying: 'The aggressive manner in which the tobacco transnationals have been targeting young women is insidious.'
But government companies are also to blame.
According to Dr Yumiko Mochizuki-Kobayashi, chief medical officer of the National Institute of Health in Tokyo, Japan Tobacco - most of which is owned by the Japanese government - and other government companies 'are directing their advertising towards young women, just like the Americans and British'.
The report says that among the major companies involved in the campaign are Philip Morris, makers of Marlboro; British American Tobacco, sellers of Lucky Strike, Kent and Rothmans; and Japan Tobacco Inc, manufacturers of Salem, Winston and Camel.
It says government-owned or government-controlled enterprises sell most cigarettes in China, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Japan.
Taiwan's Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Board, Thailand Tobacco Monopoly and the Korea Tobacco and Ginseng Corporation all sell brands aimed at women and regularly come out with new brands to boost sales.
Asian health authorities say the impact of the cigarette companies' campaign is already being felt.
The number of teenage girls who smoke has doubled in Hongkong during the past five years. It has quadrupled in Korea since 1980 and increased fivefold in Malaysia during the past decade.
Similar increases have been reported in China, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Even in Singapore, which has the world's toughest anti-tobacco laws, twice as many teenage girls are smoking now than five years ago, according to Reader's Digest.
Dr Judith Mackay, director of the Hongkong-based Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control, said: 'If women smoke like men, they die like men.'
The tobacco companies, however, deny that their advertisements target young women.
Instead, they say, the ads are aimed at women over 18 years who are already smokers, and are intended to persuade them to change brands.
But Dr David Yen, president of the John Tung Foundation, an anti-tobacco group in Taiwan, dismisses their defence.
'The ads are intended for teenagers because that's where the market is,' he said.
'Study after study has shown that most smokers start as teenagers, and that's who the tobacco advertisements are reaching and persuading.'