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New Zealand women targeted by tobacco companies

Medical xray

Friday 28 May 2010 8:48am

Despite the passing of the Smoke-free Environments Act in 1990 restricting advertising and sponsorship of tobacco, tobacco companies are still targeting women with their marketing according to a team of researchers from the University of Otago, Wellington and a Māori health research group – Whakauae Research for Māori Health and Development.

The new research, just published in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal, shows there are at least eight ways in which tobacco companies get round the spirit of the law and ‘push’ tobacco specifically at women. The study has been released to coincide with ‘World Smokefree Day’ on Monday May 31st which has a theme this year on tobacco marketing to women.

“We have analysed a relatively unknown area; the marketing of tobacco to women in New Zealand, and particularly Māori women, 50% of whom still smoke,” says Dr Heather Gifford from Whakauae.

“Smoking is more serious for women than men before middle age because it has negative health impacts on children; perinatal mortality, low birth weight and premature birth are just some of these effects”, she says. “Also there’s the known impact of second-hand smoke on such conditions as asthma and sudden infant death syndrome.”

The study shows there are at least eight ways that tobacco companies continue to try to persuade women to take up or continue smoking despite the current law.

  • Female oriented cigarette brand names such as ‘Cameo Mild’, ‘Vogue Bleue’ and ‘Topaz’, are displayed in shops.
  • Fashion magazines imported into New Zealand still have cigarette advertising directed at women with women smoking – including brands available in New Zealand.
  • Using a variety of female-orientated packaging design and colours along with use of extra slim cigarettes such as ‘Vogue Bleue’, and ‘Dunhill Essence’.
  • Continuing use of deceptive terms such as ‘light’ and ‘mild’ in online advertising counter to a ruling by the Commerce Commission in 2008. Also the use of words like ‘subtle’ and ‘mellow’ to describe former ‘light’ brands. Female smokers are more likely to use ‘light’ brands and this may delay quitting by providing what the consumer believes are less harmful alternatives.
  • The availability of menthol cigarettes as women are more likely to smoke menthols. Menthol smokers are often under the misperception that these cigarettes are less harmful to health.
  • Women have lower average incomes, and are attracted to lower priced tobacco, price discounting and roll-your-owns.

The researchers conclude that the advertising and sponsorship restrictions in the current law are inadequate and need to be expanded. One of their recommendations is to follow the lead of Australia and regulate for plain packaging of all tobacco products.

“Given the ongoing examination of tobacco issues by the Māori Affairs Select Committee, now is an excellent time to further advance new laws for tobacco control,” says Dr Gifford.

“We argue for a full phase out of tobacco sales over 10 years – but improved marketing controls would be a valuable supplementary measure.”

For more information, contact

Dr Heather Gifford
Whakauae Research Services
Tel 06 347 6772

(To obtain a PDF copy of the research – that includes a photo of a “Vogue Bleue” pack, please email Dr Gifford)