Historical and anthropological studies of non-Western societies have concluded that there is no cultural group in which the use of tobacco is substantially more common among women, although there are societies without appreciable gender differences in tobacco use. Interpretations of this pattern, influenced by well-documented changes in the United States, have concentrated on the greater use of tobacco by men, attributing it to aspects of traditional sex roles such as male power and male control of scarce resources. This analysis places more weight on the changes in both sex roles and local economies which accompany the transition from subsistence-orientated production to a market economy. Among the Lahanan, a relatively isolated group of horticulturalists living in Central Borneo, adult women, who control the production and distribution of tobacco, are more likely than men to smoke are also heavier smokers. Increasing contact with the industrialised world is rapidly changing this pattern with young men switching to manufactured cigarettes and the better educated of the young women not smoking at all. This study suggests that gender differences in tobacco use are probably inconsequential in societies where tobacco is grown for home consumption, but become increasingly substantial as manufactured cigarettes replace local tobacco products.