Statement: Surgeon General's Report on Women and Tobacco Underscores Need for Congress to Grant FDA Authority over Tobacco

Statement by Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Mar. 27 2001

Washington, DC — The landmark report released today by the Surgeon General is a devastating indictment of the tobacco industry's decades-long targeting of women and girls in its advertising and promotions, with disastrous consequences for women's health.

The tobacco industry's aggressive targeting of women and girls demands an equally aggressive response from our nation's elected leaders. Today, we call on President Bush to ask Congress to swiftly grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration effective authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products. The FDA must have the authority to stop tobacco marketing and sales to girls and children in general; to regulate dangerous and unproven health claims, such as claims about "light" and "low-tar" cigarettes that have been aimed at women in particular to get them to start smoking and to discourage them from quitting; and to require that tobacco products be manufactured in ways that produce the least harm to those who become addicted to them.

We endorse the other policy recommendations in the report, including improved prevention and cessation programs, increased excise taxes on tobacco products and stronger clean indoor air laws. But our nation won't truly reduce the epidemic of tobacco-caused death and disease until a federal agency – the FDA – is empowered to regulate tobacco like other consumable products and stop the tobacco industry's dangerous and deceptive practices, including its targeting of women and girls.

The tobacco industry has targeted women and girls with its advertising and promotions dating back to the 1920s. This strategy intensified in the 1960s when Philip Morris launched the first woman-specific brand, Virginia Slims, with its seductive "You've Come a Long Way Baby" campaign. These campaigns cynically equated smoking with independence, sophistication and beauty and preyed on the unique social pressures that women and girls face. In the 1970s, women were targeted with advertising for so-called "low tar" and "light" brands, with implied claims of reduced risk that the tobacco companies knew to be false.

Unfortunately, these marketing campaigns have worked all too well. Lung cancer is now the leading cause of cancer deaths among women. Heart disease is the overall leading cause of death among women, and smoking accounts for one of every five deaths from heart disease. Women also suffer gender-specific risks from tobacco, including harm to their reproductive health and complications during pregnancy. And smoking rates among high school girls jumped by nearly 30 percent from 1991 to 1999 (from 27 to 34.9 percent).

Today's report adds to the growing evidence that, despite their claims to the contrary, the tobacco companies have not changed. As the report states, "Tragically, in the face of continually mounting evidence of the enormous consequences of smoking for women's health, the tobacco industry continues to heavily target women in its advertising and promotional campaigns and is now attempting to export the epidemic of smoking to women in areas of the world where the smoking prevalence among females has traditionally been low."

This report follows two other recent reports showing that the tobacco companies continue their shameless marketing of their deadly products and their equally shameless deception about the harm that these products cause.

On March 13, 2001, the Federal Trade Commission released a report showing that, contrary to their claims of change, the tobacco companies spent more than ever before to market their products in 1999, the first year after the state tobacco settlement. In 1999, cigarette manufacturers spent a record $8.24 billion on advertising and promotion, an increase of $1.51 billion or 22.3 percent from 1998. That amounts to $22.5 million a day. Much of that increase was in categories that appeal to kids, including shelf displays, two-for-one promotions that reduce cigarette prices, giveaways such as hats and lighters, store advertising and magazine advertising.

On February 22, 2001, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences released a report raising serious questions about the tobacco industry's marketing of so-called "reduced risk" products. The report reached two primary conclusions. First, none of the "reduced risk" products now on the market have been proven to be less hazardous and may in fact increase the incidence of tobacco-related disease by deterring current smokers from quitting or encouraging new smokers to start. Second, tobacco products need to be regulated like other consumable products to protect the public health.

Along with today's Surgeon General's report, these reports show that the tobacco industry's claims of change are a self-serving sham aimed at heading off real change in the form of legislation to grant the FDA meaningful authority to regulate tobacco. President Bush and Congress have an obligation to act now to regulate what remains an unrepentant, deceptive and dangerous industry that always puts its own bottom line first.

View the Campaign's Special Report on Women and Girls and Tobacco.

 

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