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Asian Women Said Potential Smokers

November 24, 1998

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Asian women represent a vast pool of potential smokers, experts said today, and anti-smoking campaigns must be targeted toward women in order to fend off a tobacco industry ready to exploit them.

Compared to American and European women _ about a quarter of whom smoke, but in stable or declining numbers _ only 4 to 8 percent of women in Asia and other developing regions smoke, according to data presented at the Global Congress on Lung Health.

The four-day congress, bringing together 1,500 lung disease experts from 90 countries, is the largest such gathering held in Asia in a decade.

With tobacco companies already targeting Asia, where smoking rates among men in countries like China, Japan and South Korea are between 60 and 70 percent, the largely untapped female market will be next in line, experts said.

Karen Slama, a researcher with the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, compared smoking in every country to an epidemic that starts off slowly, builds up and peaks, then declines as anti-smoking campaigns set it.

Women and men start smoking for different reasons, the experts said. Women tend to start to express maturity, independence and sociability and to relax and ease stress.

Women often keep smoking _ and have a harder time permanently quitting _ because they believe it will help keep them thin.

``This is just the sort of connection that the tobacco industry is trying to make to every girl in the world,″ said Patricia White of Britain’s National Health Service.

Cigarette advertisements play up the psychological perception that smoking enhances beauty, confidence and seductiveness, White said.

Anti-smoking campaigns should take that into account, White said. She displayed one anti-smoking poster depicting the halter-topped torso of a young woman smoker contrasted with a diseased lung.

``Part of gender sensitivity is that we have to adapt ourselves to women’s needs,″ White said.

Slama said in every society where the smoking epidemic among women takes off, it’s usually the educated, more independent women who are the first to light up. They also tend, decades later, to be the first to quit.

Participants from India and Turkey said the educated elites led the way in their countries. But the expectation that traditional beliefs would form a barrier to poor women smoking proved wrong _ they were no match for modern advertising.

Women also have a more difficult time quitting smoking permanently than men, the experts said. Two factors were fear of weight gain and the harder time women’s bodies have in shedding nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco.

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