Deadly in Pink

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 significantly stepped up these efforts, threatening to lure a new generation of girls into a lifetime of smoking. 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 to counter the growing public consensus that smoking is socially unacceptable and unhealthy.

These new marketing campaigns represent the most aggressive efforts by the tobacco industry to target women and girls in at least a decade. These campaigns are jeopardizing the progress the United States has made in reducing smoking and once again putting the health of women and girls at risk.

A December 2008 report by the nation’s leading cancer organizations underscores the threat to women’s health from this new wave of cigarette marketing to women and girls. The “Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer” found 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 among all women. A key reason cited was the sharp increase in smoking initiation among young women and girls during the late 1960s and 1970s, when cigarette brands such as Philip Morris’ Virginia Slims were created for and aggressively marketed to women.

The latest cigarette marketing to women and girls threatens a repeat of this harmful history, but it is preventable.

The Congress has a significant role to play by passing legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products. This legislation would curtail many of the industry’s most harmful practices that have been used to target women and girls. Among other things, it would:

  • Crack down on marketing that makes tobacco products appealing to children;
  • Ban misleading health claims such as “light” and “low tar” that often have been targeted to women;
  • Stop tobacco companies from manipulating their products in ways that increase addiction and harm; and
  • Require large health warnings that, in addition to better informing consumers, would reduce the effectiveness of the cigarette pack itself as a marketing tool.

This report describes the tobacco industry’s new marketing campaigns, the industry’s history of targeting women and girls, the devastating consequences for women’s health and the benefits of the pending legislation to grant the FDA authority over tobacco products.