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Increasing smoking amongst women in India: #3 in the world

Smoking is a habit that hits directly at a person’s basic living system – the lungs. Its been a rather manly thing to smoke. Over the years, the tobacco companies had perfected the art of targeting the men with macho ads associated with smoking (Marlboro etc.).

But in the recent years, as the campaign against smoking has intensified, incidently the habit has gained currency amongst the women. This has also coincided with the rise of women in business and economy as well as their relative liberalization versus their predecessors.

Unfortunately, when a woman wants to assert her freedom in today’s world, she wants to emulate all the wrongs that man perpetuates in this world. Instead of showing a new path, an “educated and lliberal” woman’s psyche and definition of power, freedom and expression is tied to man’s world.

A news report came in recently which said that India is #3 in the number of women smokers (1 crore female smokers) in the world after US and China. The increased smoking hurts the women health – which in any case, is not a subject of focus with most administrators of the world. According to a study, women smokers in India die an average of eight years earlier than their nonsmoking peers.

For a long time, smoking amongst women has been related to lack of morals. Whenever a woman is depicted as a vamp or an adultress in the movies or media, she is shown smoking. But the new adopters over the past century have changed that view.

Smoking in public has for a long time been something reserved for men and when done by women has been associated with promiscuity. In Japan during the Edo period, prostitutes and their clients would often approach one another under the guise of offering a smoke and the same was true for 19th century Europe.

These days, as the society becomes more prosperous and taken on Western mores, it slowly takes on the unhealthy habits as well. More and more people adapt to non-vegetarian diet instead of vegetarian one – which hurts both health of people as well as the environment (for example, It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat, and even fish on fish farms must be fed 5 pounds of wild-caught fish to produce one pound of farmed fish flesh). And more and more people, specially women taken up smoking.

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Advertisers and tobacco companies have also worked very hard at hooking women to this habit through innovatively sinister campaigns. Virginia Slims, for example, has singularly been instrumental in creating the niche of women smoking and deepening the pockets of many tobacco companies around the world as the new market developed.

Virginia Slims is a brand of cigarette manufactured by Philip Morris. The brand was introduced in 1968 and marketed to young professional women using the slogan “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Some media watch groups considered this campaign to be responsible for a rapid increase in smoking among teenage girls. Later campaigns have used the slogans, “It’s a woman thing,” in the 1990s, and “Find your voice.” A report by the Surgeon General of the United States has interpreted these marketing strategies as attempting to link smoking “to women’s freedom, emancipation, and empowerment.” This report also tied the increase of smoking among teenage girls to rises in sales of Virginia Slims and other “niche” brands marketed directly to women.

Whatever succeeds in the “Developed world” doesn’t need a lot of push in the “Developing world”, if it is associated with lifestyle. So, the advertising and product companies do the “hard work” once. They succeed in pushing the lifestyle stuff in developed world, and wait for the other societies to just ape these western societies. That’s what is happening in India, China and Pakistan.

Reference Links:

India third on global ‘female smoking list’
Map courtesy TobaccoAtlas
Virginia Slims

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Desh Kapoor

The panache of a writer is proven by the creative pen he uses to transform the most mundane topic into a thrilling story. Desh – the author, critic and analyst uses the power of his pen to create thought-provoking pieces from ordinary topics of discussion. He writes on myriad interesting themes. Read the articles to know more about his views and “drishtikone”.

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