Big Tobacco Targets Chinese Females in the ‘She Economy’

| Jan 26, 2015 04:42 PM EST

A Chinese woman smokes a cigarette.

The start of 2015 is a news-filled period for China. The economy is in a period of slower growth, the government is acting upon discussions with international counterparts regarding large-scale projects, the environment is high on Beijing's agenda (with President Xi Jinping likening it to one's own life) and tobacco-smoking reforms are due to take effect.

Some have used the label "She economy" due to the increasing number of products targeted at female consumers, and new data shows that the drug nicotine is now part of the woman-centered campaign.

The issue of smoking is no longer confined to the northern rural regions of the country, where women in the middle-age to elderly group have traditionally smoked cigarettes while they did not work and during harsh winters. According to the Women of China website, the concentration now exists in eastern urban locations, as young career women take up the practice for a number of reasons.

Furthermore, adolescent female smokers have become a major concern in China, with 23 percent of teenage girls in China stating that they had tried smoking, according to a 2005 national survey. Among this group, 68.2 percent had smoked a whole cigarette prior to the age of 13 years. Alarmingly, the number of teenagers smoking in the 2005 results represents almost a 15-percent rise from seven years earlier.

Readers are likely to be wondering what the attraction is in the 21th century, given the damning health information that has emerged over the last 50 years. Even though it is widely known that young people are more likely to engage in risky behavior, a tendency that usually subsides with the passing of time, one would think that the fear of heart disease, emphysema and throat cancer would be enough to dissuade China's youth.

According to Women of China writer Yulanda Wang, young women, including teenagers, are drawn to nicotine smoking for numerous reasons, and it is not just one reason that draws people to cigarettes. However, an overall analysis of Wang's Sunday article reveals that image is the most significant underpinning factor, regardless of the specific reason identified.

Whether a young woman is smoking because she wishes to appear sophisticated, charming or independent, or because she thinks that nicotine will keep her weight under control, the main issue is the smoker's image. Even when cigarettes are used for stress relief, part of the motivation lies in the image that the smoking woman creates: that of a person who is busy, burdened with great responsibility and managing serious matters.

It is important to note that smoking among women is also prominent outside of China: Women make up 33.3 percent of smokers in developed countries, while the percentage is 12.5 in developing countries.

However, the current understanding is that the data shows that the smoking rate among women in China is very likely to rise even further.

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