Tobacco Industry Watch

Women's Report: Deadly in Pink

Big Tobacco Steps Up Its Targeting of Women and Girls

Report Released Feb. 18, 2009

The tobacco industry has a long history of developing cigarette brands and marketing campaigns that target women and girls, with devastating consequences for women's health.

In the last two years, the industry has launched its most aggressive marketing campaigns aimed at women and girls in over a decade.  These campaigns are again putting the health of women and girls at risk and underscore the need for Congress to pass legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products.

The nation's two largest tobacco companies — Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds— have launched new marketing campaigns that depict cigarette smoking as feminine and fashionable, rather than the harmful and deadly addiction it really is:

  • In October 2008, Philip Morris USA announced a makeover of its Virginia Slims brand into "purse packs" — small, rectangular cigarette packs that contain "superslim" cigarettes. Available in mauve and teal and half the size of regular cigarette packs, the sleek "purse packs" resemble packages of cosmetics and fit easily in small purses.  They come in "Superslims Lights" and "Superslims Ultra Lights" versions, continuing the tobacco industry's history of associating smoking with weight control and of appealing to women's health concerns with misleading claims such as "light" and "low-tar."
  • In January 2007, R.J. Reynolds launched a new version of its Camel cigarettes, called Camel No. 9, packaged in shiny black boxes with hot pink and teal borders.  The name evoked famous Chanel perfumes, and magazine advertising featured flowery imagery and vintage fashion. The ads carried slogans including "Light and luscious" and "Now available in stiletto," the latter for a thin version of the cigarette pitched to "the most fashion forward woman."  Ads ran in magazines popular with women and girls, including: Vogue, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and InStyle.  Promotional giveaways included flavored lip balm, cell phone jewelry, tiny purses and wristbands, all in hot pink.

Previous marketing campaigns have had a devastating impact on women's health.  The nation's latest cancer statistics, released in December 2008, showed that while lung cancer death rates are decreasing for men — and overall cancer death rates are decreasing for both men and women — lung cancer death rates have yet to decline for women.

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of women, having surpassed breast cancer in 1987, and smoking puts women and girls at greater risk of a wide range of deadly diseases, including heart attacks, strokes, emphysema and numerous cancers.

Congress can curtail the industry's most harmful practices by passing the bill granting the FDA authority over tobacco products.  Among other things, this bill would:

  • Crack down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids.

  • Ban misleading health claims such as "light" and "low-tar" and strictly regulate all health claims about tobacco products.

  • Require larger, more effective health warnings on tobacco products and advertising.

  • Require tobacco companies to disclose contents of their products, as well as changes in products and research about their health effects.

  • Grant the FDA the authority to require changes in tobacco products, such as the reduction or removal of harmful ingredients and the reduction of nicotine to non-addictive levels.

The new marketing campaigns are the latest chapter in the tobacco industry's long history of targeting women and girls. Some previous examples:

  • In the 1920s, ads for Lucky Strike cigarettes first linked smoking to weight control by urging women to "Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet."
  • In the 1960s, Philip Morris introduced Virginia Slims, the first cigarette brand created specifically for women, and launched the "You've come a long way, baby" marketing campaign that linked smoking to women's liberation.
  • In the 1970s, tobacco companies responded to women's growing concerns about the health risks of smoking by targeting with them ads implying that "light" and "low-tar" cigarettes were safer, despite knowing this was not the case.