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Soc Sci Med. 2002 Aug;55(4):681-90.

Smoking and young women in Vietnam: the influence of normative gender roles.

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  • 1Key Centre for Women's Health in Society, University of Melbourne, Vic, Australia.


Smoking in Vietnam, as elsewhere in Asia, is strongly sex-linked. A 1997 national prevalence survey found about half of males but just 3.4% of females used tobacco regularly. Little is known about smoking-related health awareness or attitudes in Vietnam. There is concern that women may take up smoking if rapid social change brings alteration in traditional gender norms that discourage this behaviour. Effective tobacco control depends upon accurate understanding of prevailing knowledge and views. This paper reports on a 1999-2000 collaborative study into smoking attitudes, practices and health awareness, with particular reference to gender norms. A survey, based partly on findings from initial focus groups, was administered to young female students (n = 1018) and factory workers (n = 1002) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's largest metropolis. Participants were recruited through random cluster sampling. Results indicated that smoking continues to be shunned by the vast majority of young urban students and factory workers, although prevalence was slightly higher than found in national surveys, and there was a moderate degree of experimentation. Perhaps of greater concern was the degree of ambivalence voiced about taking up smoking in the future. Moreover, while nearly all expressed awareness of negative health effects of tobacco, these were vaguely worded and excluded key mortality risks. Gender norms appeared to be strongly enduring, with female non-smoking attributed overwhelmingly to its 'inappropriateness'. Male smoking was seen as normative. Overall, workers (representing a low-income, less-educated population) had higher rates of tobacco use and less health knowledge than students. The paper concludes with a discussion about ramifications for public health interventions.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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