Heavy Tobacco Smokers in Latin America

 In a previous article, Tobacco Smoking In Latin America, we cited some survey data from the 1998 Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica study on tobacco smoking.  In that study of persons 12 to 64 years old in 18 Latin American countries, it was found that 18.4% within the past 7 days.  Furthermore, it was observed that

The present article is a follow-up.  For our data, we will refer to the TGI Latina study, which is a survey of 52,639 persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old in nine Latin American countries conducted during the second half of 2001 and the first half of 2002.  A major objective would obviously be to track the incidence of tobacco smoking over time.  Unfortunately, there are some differences between the two studies.  The most important point is that the studies have different coverage: the 1998 Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica study covers about 90% of the 12-64 population in eighteen countries, totaling more than 300 million people, whereas the 2001-2002 TGI Latina study covers mostly urban populations in nine countries (e.g. Santiago in Chile, Lima in Peru and so on) totaling 135 million people.  For these reasons, the studies are not truly comparable.

In any case, in the 2001-2002 TGI Latina study, we found that 23.8% of the survey respondents said that they had smoked cigarettes in the last 7 days.  Again, we have to stress that we cannot infer that tobacco smoking has increased between 1998 and 2001-2002, because that difference of 23.8% versus 18.4% may be due to urban-rural differences.  In the next chart, we show the incidences by age/sex, socio-economic level and country.  Once again, we observe the same points as in 1998:

(source: 2001-2002 TGI Latina)

In this article, we move beyond the study of the group of all tobacco smokers.  Instead, we begin by noting that in most marketing case studies, the consumers can be grouped in terms of their volume of usage.  Once this is done, it is usually the case that a small segment of heavy users accounts for a disproportionately large amount of consumption.  The marketing paradigm then calls for different strategies that involve retaining the loyalty of the heavy users, converting the light users to increase usage and attracting non-users.  This is the essence of marketing segmentation.  In the case of tobacco, this is obviously helped immensely by the fact that the product has addictive powers.

In the TGI Latina study, 17.6% of the smokers (which is just 4.2% of the total population) consumed 9 or more packs of cigarettes per week, and they accounted for 38.4% of the total volume.  In the next chart below, we provide the demographic profiles of these heavy (9 or more packs per week) users.  This set of profiles differ from those of the total smokers in some essential way --- as the incidences of heavy smoking is higher among Men 20-24, socio-economic level D and the countries of Chile and Colombia.

(source: 2001-2002 TGI Latina)

The tobacco issue is a public issue.  For many years, the tobacco industry had asserted that there existed no conclusive scientific evidence that identified tobacco smoking as the cause of death to the exclusion of all other concomitant explanations.  These days, they have retreated from that position to accept a certain degree of responsibility and to discuss settlements or remedies.  The fact that tobacco smoking causes premature death among a large number of people implies that there are huge social, economic and emotional damages.  The solutions and remedies are therefore matters of public concern that require governmental action.

Notwithstanding the deleterious impact of tobacco smoking, the political climate in Latin America does not seem to be supportive of a total ban of tobacco anywhere.  Absent that strong political will, certain partial steps that are usually taken.  The most common tactics are to impose or raise cigarette taxes, to ban the advertising and promotion of tobacco products and to publicize the health risks.  Raising taxes reduces consumption, especially among children, adolescents and lower socio-economic groups, although extra effort must then be made to stop the increased smuggling (of which the tobacco companies themselves have been charged in engaging in large amounts of DNP (Duty Not Paid) sales; see this interesting instance).  According to the data here, smoking in the SES D can be reduced by heavy taxation so as to make cigarettes nearly prohibitively expensive.  It may be more difficult to deliver the health risk message to the young male 20-34 group, for whom death seems a remote prospect.

Marlboro signage in store checkout in Mexico


 (posted by Roland Soong, 8/06/2002)

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