CHENGDU, May 31 (Xinhua) -- Zhang Qingqing, a 26-year-old art teacher in Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, needs a cigarette to start the day.
"I don't think such low-tar cigarettes do much harm to my health," says Zhang after a deep puff of the mint-flavored "light" cigarette in her hand.
Zhang lit up her first cigarette just to copy her college roommates and now she smokes at least 10 cigarettes every day.
"Many girls around me choose the 'slim lady' cigarettes because they are fashionable, elegant and much safer," she says.
"Smoking makes me cool and different," says Liu Yanyan, a 24-year-old postgraduate in Chengdu.
But the labels "light," "mild" or "low tar" are misleading, particularly for women, as they suggest the products are less threatening to health, which is not the case, says Zhi Xiuyi, a professor with the lung cancer treatment center of Xuanwu Hospital of Capital Medical University.
Such cigarettes, first produced by foreign companies in the 1970s, have become popular among Chinese women in recent years, according to a report published ahead of the 23th World No Tobacco Day, themed "gender and tobacco, with an emphasis on marketing to women," which falls on May 31. The tobacco companies have recently started to more vigorously target women in their advertising campaigns, associating smoking with fashion and liberation, said the 2010 China Tobacco Control Report, released Friday by the Tobacco Control Office of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
A 2009 survey of 212 female smokers in Kunming, capital of the southwestern Yunnan Province, showed that about 60 percent of the respondents regularly bought "low tar" cigarettes.
The survey, conducted by the Kunming-based Chaoyi Health Counseling Center, found that 80 percent of the respondents had smoked for less than six years.
"The statistics showed the tobacco industry's marketing campaigns targeting women in the past years had worked in China," said Wu Yiqun, deputy director of the Think Tank Research Center for Health Development.
Scientific evidence shows that smokers of "low tar" cigarettes aren't at less risk of getting lung cancer or other lung diseases than smokers of regular cigarettes, says professor Zhi.
On the contrary, "low tar" cigarettes made smokers puff more intensely and frequently which added to the risk, he said.
"In a 2009 survey, we found even many doctors thought low tar were less dangerous," said Yang Yan, a professor with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
As tobacco media advertising is now banned by Chinese laws, the tobacco companies have switched their focus to events such as fashion shows, said the report of the Tobacco Control Office.
The marketing campaigns highlighted the need for governments to ban all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship as stipulated in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, it said.
A national survey in 2002 found that smokers accounted for about 3 percent of Chinese women. But the result of a local survey released Monday showed about 12 percent of women in the northern Tianjin Municipality smoke regularly.
In 2003, China joined the international fight against tobacco consumption by signing the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control of the World Health Organization (WHO), which came into effect in 2006.