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My first investigative piece, previously published in Hibr’s gender issue, (check it out here)
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“I want to smoke Kent cigarettes when I grow up,” said a younger Rania Baroud, who is now a journalist, media personality, and deputy director of the Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI) association. These days, statements like the above, are not uncommon among the young, presumably easily influenced teens.Allegedly, 40% of the world’s population are male smokers and only 10% are female smokers. This proves to be a statistic that prodded the industry to gear its efforts towards females. Women in the Arab world specifically make an efficient target since “a woman is emotional in everything she does,” according to Baroud.

Advertising conspiracy

Recognizing this latent characteristic, the industry believes that most of the time, one cigarette is enough to get us females hooked. In the Middle East, 7% of women are smokers. In Lebanon, however, 37% of women are smokers, says Baroud. These high numbers can be traced back to many reasons, predominantly advertising. In order to get young female ‘sitting ducks’ to light their first cigarette, advertisers play on three pertinent ideas: liberation, sexuality and femininity.

Smoke your way to liberation

“Lebanese women may be known as the Arab world’s most liberal,” claimed the AFP in their article, ‘Liberal Lebanese Women Suffer Under Outdated Laws’ (March 7, 2008). According to popular belief, this means being free of constraints, and equal to men in terms of salaries, privileges and human rights. Since the laws do not make women feel liberated, they end up resorting to other means.
This liberation has manifested itself as westernization. For example, the cigarette brand West created an advert with a veiled woman sitting next to a western woman. The western woman is handing the veiled woman a cigarette and the caption reads “West is best”. The veiled woman is portrayed as confined to her veil and the western woman appears to be offering her liberation in the form of a cigarette. With such subliminal messages bombarding the subconscious of Arab women, it is no surprise that more women are taking up smoking.
She smokes, he smokes
The gender differences don’t just stop at society and conventions. Men and women get addicted to smoking in very different ways. In 2001, a study was done at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine where they placed opaque goggles and nose clips on a group of young smokers. After having a cigarette, the women in the group collectively reported their cigarette to have been less satisfying. Reportedly, women, with their emotional nature, are more addicted to the mental aspect: the smell, taste, smoke and ‘hand-to-mouth’ motion, whereas men are more addicted to the nicotine. Lebanese women are bound to notice the believed sexual appeal in inhaling on a cigarette and seductively letting out the flirtatious swirls of smoke. What these women fail to realize is that by smoking they have achieved the complete opposite of independence and liberation.

Another belief commonly held by desperate teenage girls is that smoking will curb one’s appetite. Baroud confirms that there might be some truth to that theory but asks rhetorically, “Would you rather be fat or have cancer?” By lighting that very first cigarette, a woman is basically signing a contract of dependence and addiction to a very destructive habit.

Mondanité or longevity?
High heels, a gold cellphone, expensive accessories, a full face of make-up and a super long, super slim, and super light cigarette between two beautifully manicured fingers. That is the image in any Mondanité, Prestige, or other glossy women’s magazine. Women that like to be classy and feminine let their guard down and light cigarette after cigarette, thinking, “It’s light.” Baroud laughs as she exclaims, “The only thing light is their minds; the industry is fooling them.”

Every cigarette has 4,600 poisonous materials and at least 50 of them are carcinogenic. “Can you imagine yourself drinking acetone or eating asphalt? That is all in a cigarette,” explains Baroud. The light cigarette has even more harmful chemicals, not to mention more “filter vents” according to quitsmoking.about.com in their ‘Quit smoking Q&A’. In order for a cigarette to remain lit, it has tiny holes in the filter that let the oxygen in. The light cigarette requires you to inhale very deeply because of this increased number of pores, thereby making it doubly harmful.

Desperate to quit?
Rania Baroud offers some uniquely feminine advice to help women looking to quit. “Forget the yellow teeth, yellow fingers, and the smell that you just can’t get rid of; as a woman don’t you want to have children?” asks Baroud. She then explains that smoking causes all the veins in your body to dry up, including the veins in your face and ovaries. A woman that smokes ages 10 years faster than a woman that doesn’t. More importantly, smoking is the leading cause of impotence in women. These are two facts that should make any woman think twice before lighting up. If that isn’t enough incentive perhaps more statistics from Baroud would be:

Every year, 6 million people die from smoking worldwide, meaning one person every 8 seconds.
90% of all cancer cases worldwide are a result of smoking.
20% of women in Lebanon that are married to smokers get cancer because of secondhand smoke.
80% of children in Lebanon are secondhand smokers, exposed to cancer, asthma and many other diseases.

“We are raising a sick generation,” concludes Baroud with a sigh.

What do you think ?