Oct. 30 2008
Washington, D.C. — Demonstrating again that it is not the changed, responsible company it claims to be, Philip Morris is launching an aggressive new campaign to market cigarettes that appeal to women and girls. The campaign is built around a new look for its Virginia Slims brand — a sleek pink "purse pack" that is compact and rectangular, with square ends, and holds "super slim" cigarettes that are very small in diameter. According to a recent story in Brandweek, Philip Morris plans to launch the repackaged Virginia Slims with a major marketing campaign by the first quarter of 2009, and it includes "Super Slims Lights" and "Super Slims Ultra Lights" varieties. The new "purse packs" are already on sale in some markets.
Philip Morris shows contempt for women and their health by putting a pink gloss on a product that causes lung cancer and heart disease, two of the leading killers of women. It is the height of cynicism that Philip Morris timed its announcement of the new pink Virginia Slims for October — National Breast Cancer Awareness Month — when pink is usually associated with protecting women's health, not harming it. It doesn't seem to bother the nation's largest tobacco company that lung cancer from smoking is, by far, the number one cancer killer of women.
The new pink Virginia Slims continues the tobacco industry's long history of marketing cigarettes to women and girls. The pink "purse packs" imply that smoking cigarettes is feminine and fashionable. Names like "super slims" imply a link between cigarettes and weight loss for girls and women concerned about body image. And the use of terms such as "light" and "ultra light" imply that these cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes, despite the fact that Philip Morris and other tobacco companies have long known from their own research that this is not the case. Tobacco companies have targeted the marketing of "light" and "low-tar" cigarettes to women, who are more likely to be concerned about the health risks of smoking.
This latest attempt to market cigarettes to women and girls demonstrates the need for Congress to pass pending legislation giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco products. Among other things, this legislation would ban misleading terms such as "light" and "ultra light," give the FDA authority to strictly regulate all health claims about tobacco products and crack down on tobacco marketing to kids, including restricting tobacco advertising in stores and in youth-oriented magazines to black-and-white text only. The U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved this legislation, and it is pending in the Senate, where it has 60 sponsors.
The tobacco industry has a long and harmful history of targeting women and girls. This strategy intensified in the 1968 when Philip Morris introduced Virginia Slims with its seductive "You've Come a Long Way Baby" slogan. Six years after the introduction of Virginia Slims, the rate of smoking initiation for 12-year-old girls had increased 110 percent. In a more recent example, R.J. Reynolds last year introduced Camel No. 9 cigarettes, which come in a shiny black box with flowery hot pink or teal borders, have a name reminiscent of a famous perfume, carry the slogan "light and luscious," and have been heavily marketed in magazines popular with women and girls, such as Glamour, Cosmopolitan and Vogue.
The consequences of these marketing campaigns have been devastating for women's health. The latest public health data show lung cancer death rates for some women are still rising at a time when death rates for other kinds of cancer in women are declining. The risk of coronary heart disease — the overall leading cause of death among women — doubles for women who smoke. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, has become the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. and now kills more women than men. In addition, smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke by pregnant women are a major cause of spontaneous abortions, stillbirths and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and increase health and developmental problems of children born to these women. Research also shows that women have a much harder time quitting than men.
The Virginia Slims pink purse pack is yet another tobacco industry slap in the face to women. Far from making a fashion statement, the pink purse pack will encourage smoking by women and girls and expose them to its lethal effects. Philip Morris should terminate this cynical marketing ploy immediately, and Congress should quickly enact the bill giving the FDA authority over tobacco products. There is nothing pretty, fashionable or healthy about a product that kills more than 178,000 women in the United States and many more around the world each year.