Deadly in Pink: New Report Warns Big Tobacco Has Stepped Up Targeting of Women and Girls

Congress urged to grant FDA authority over tobacco products.

    • February 18, 2009

The tobacco industry has unleashed its most aggressive marketing campaigns aimed at women and girls in over a decade, according to a report issued today by a coalition of public health organizations.  The report warns that these new marketing campaigns are putting the health of women and girls at risk and urges Congress to regulate tobacco marketing by passing legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products.

The report, “Deadly in Pink: Big Tobacco Steps Up Its Targeting of Women and Girls,” was issued by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.  The report and images of the tobacco marketing campaigns can be found at www.tobaccofreekids.org/deadlyinpink

In the last two years, 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.

These new marketing campaigns are the latest chapter in the tobacco industry’s long history of targeting women and girls, which has 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. 

“These new marketing campaigns by Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds show contempt for the health of women and girls,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.  “The tobacco industry’s aggressive marketing demands an equally aggressive response from our nation’s elected leaders.  By granting the FDA authority over tobacco products, the Congress can crack down on the industry’s most harmful practices.”

Despite being the nation’s number one cause of preventable death, tobacco products currently are virtually exempt from regulation.  U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) are expected to soon reintroduce legislation granting the FDA authority over tobacco products.  This legislation would:

  • Restrict tobacco marketing that appeals to children. Among other things, the bill would restrict tobacco advertising in stores and in publications with significant teen readership to black-and-white text only.  It would ban all remaining tobacco industry sponsorships of sports and entertainment events.  The FDA and states would gain new authority to further restrict tobacco marketing.
  • Ban misleading health claims such as “light” and “low-tar” and strictly regulate all health claims about tobacco products.  The tobacco companies often have targeted misleading health claims specifically to women.
  • Require larger, more effective health warnings on tobacco packages and advertising.  In addition to better informing consumers, these warnings would reduce the effectiveness of the cigarette pack itself as a marketing tool.  Pack design has been a critical part of the marketing campaigns for Camel No. 9 and the Virginia Slims “purse packs.”
  • Require tobacco companies to disclose the contents of their products, as well as changes in products and research about their health effects.
  • Grant the FDA authority to require changes in new and existing tobacco products to protect public health, such as the reduction or removal of harmful ingredients.

“Big Tobacco’s blatant targeting of women is just an extension of a decades-long campaign of fraud and deception designed to addict children and adults to its deadly products,” said John R. Seffrin, Ph.D., chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society and its advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). “Congress must empower the FDA to regulate tobacco products to put a stop to the harmful practices of an industry that has had free reign for far too long.”

“This report is a sober reminder that the tobacco industry has become more aggressive in marketing deadly products to women,” said Nancy Brown, CEO, American Heart Association.  “Hip and trendy packages cannot disguise the health hazards of smoking and the risk for heart disease and stroke.  We must give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to rein in the industry’s relentless campaign to manipulate young women with products that send the wrong message.”

“These findings exemplify the urgent need for the Congress to act quickly to provide the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products,” said Charles D. Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association. “Until then, we leave girls and young women vulnerable to Big Tobacco’s predatory marketing practices.”

“It is unconscionable for tobacco companies to market these lethal products to women and equate them with fashion, femininity and independence,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D.,M.B.A., president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Virtually all lung cancer deaths and a large portion of heart disease, two of the leading killers of women, are caused by smoking. We must redouble all our efforts to rein in tobacco industry marketing of these deadly products to our young women and girls.”

In addition to the latest marketing campaigns, the report released today describes the tobacco industry’s long history of targeting women and girls.  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.

The result is that, today, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death among women, killing more than 170,000 women in the U.S. each year.  In addition to the well-known risk of lung cancer, women who smoke double their risk of coronary heart disease, which is the overall leading cause of death among both women and men.  More women than men now die from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is caused primarily by smoking and has become the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. 

In the U.S. as a whole, tobacco use kills more than 400,000 people and costs the nation $96 billion in health care bills each year. About 90 percent of adult smokers start in their teens or earlier.  Every day, another 1,000 kids become regular smokers, and one-third of them will die prematurely as a result.

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