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Philip Morris' New Virginia Slims Advertising Campaign Insults and Degrades Women

February 01, 2001

Washington, DC — Statement by: American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Medical Women's Association, Boston Women's Health Book Collective, Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids, International Network of Women Against Tobacco (INWAT), Massachusetts Women and Girls Tobacco Advisory Committee, National Council on Women's Health/Mothers and Daughters Race Against Teen Smoking, Task Force For Tobacco-Free Women and Girls of New York, Women, Girls and Tobacco Project/Institute for Health and Recovery, WomenHeart û The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease

Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, insults and degrades women with its new magazine ad campaign for Virginia Slims Cigarettes. The company, in an expensive and lavish presentation, uses the metaphor of an ancient Egyptian female pharaoh to encourage women to 'See Yourself as a King' by smoking Virginia Slims. By once again suggesting that women are empowered by smoking, Philip Morris shows contempt for women's health issues. The Virginia Slims ads are the most recent evidence that Philip Morris' attempts to portray itself as a socially responsible company are a sham. This Virginia Slims advertising campaign illustrates why the public health community remains convinced that Philip Morris has not changed its predatory business practices and only promises change when threatened with litigation or legislative action.

The latest Virginia Slims ad campaign continues Philip Morris's targeting of women and girls which began in 1968 with its seductive 'You've Come a Long Way Baby' slogan. Six years after the initial Virginia Slims campaign began, the rate of smoking initiation for 12-year-old girls had increased 110 percent as a direct result of Virginia Slims and other brands aimed at women. More recently, Virginia Slims embarked on the costly 'Find Your Voice' ad campaign which featured strikingly beautiful women from around the world, and once again suggested empowerment and attractiveness from smoking. Philip Morris discontinued the campaign after Michael Szymanczyk, Philip Morris CEO, was questioned about it in the landmark Engle trial in Florida, in which the largest punitive damage award in history was assessed against the tobacco industry, including Philip Morris. The new Virginia Slims campaign shows that this action was motivated by self-interest and that Philip Morris changes its behavior only when it has no other choice.

It is disturbingly cynical for Philip Morris to encourage women to 'See Yourself as a King' by smoking. Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of women, and smoking causes over 80 percent of these deaths. The latest public health data show lung cancer death rates for women are rising at a time when death rates for other kinds of cancer in women are waning. The risk of coronary heart disease doubles for women who smoke. In addition, published studies link smoking by pregnant women with between 19,000 and 141,000 spontaneous abortions, 1,900 to 4,100 stillbirths and over 2,000 deaths from sudden infant death syndrome every year. Smoking can cause infertility and premature menopause. Research also shows that women have a much harder time quitting than men.

If Philip Morris accepts that smoking poses serious health risks, as it has indicated in recent statements and on its website, then it should immediately terminate this latest Virginia Slims ad campaign, and stop working to addict women and girls to a product that the whole world, including Philip Morris, knows is lethal.

Get more information in our special Philip Morris: Targeting Women and Girls.