We don’t see much of the Marlboro Man anymore, but what about the “Virginia Slims” woman? Everybody knows what happened to him – or them, two of whom died from lung cancer.
She, however, was never quite as iconic. But that doesn’t mean the tobacco companies don’t have a soft spot for women, especially the young ones, according to a new report released Wednesday.
Issued by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the report alleges tobacco companies are trying to cultivate a generation of new users with fruity flavored cigarettes and marketing campaigns that target young people, including young women and girls.
In particular, the report takes issue with a recent R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company campaign that it says is clearly designed to attract girls with hot pink product packaging, ladies-only nights at clubs and cutesy party giveaway bags containing cigarettes, berry-flavored lip gloss and cell phone “bling.”
David Howard, spokesman for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, said the Camel No. 9 marketing campaign is not about reaching young people. There are 20 million adult women smokers, Howard said, and 19 million of them smoke some brand other than Camel. Health organizations involved with the report, however, insist the ads cross the line against marketing tobacco products to youth. The report was released in collaboration with the American Lung Association, American Cancer Society and American Heart Association.
“It seems pretty clear that the ads were designed to appeal to young girls and 20-somethings,” said Ellen Vargyus, counsel for the American Legacy Foundation, an anti-smoking organization. “From [tobacco companies’] point of view, it’s sound marketing to do that. We know that 80 percent of smokers start before they’re 18.”
“In the days when tobacco companies were not so careful about what they said they used to call teens ‘replacement smokers,’” Vargyus said.
According to the American Heart Association, more than 178,000 women die from smoking-related diseases in a year. While death from uterine and stomach cancer has decreased in the last 70 years, lung cancer has surged among women, with an increase in incidence of almost 400 percent in the last 20 years.
The Camel No. 9 campaign caused quite a stir last fall. A group of 40 U.S. House members sent letters to 11 magazines calling on them to stop carrying the ads. The magazines, and their parent companies after them, either did not respond or refused.
If the goal of the ads was to get cigarettes in the hands of young women and girls, tobacco companies chose the right style and place, said Rosemarie Conforti, a professor of media literacy and education at Southern Connecticut State University.
“In the age of age aspiration, there are many teen girls who are reading these magazines because they want to be older,” Conforti said. “Magazines, and they know this, are absolutely the manual on how to be a young woman.”
Conforti said the fashion layout especially is the kind of guide girls love. It tells you how to be sophisticated and fashion-forward in three simple steps, she said, and it shows you the lifestyle that goes along with it through the cigarette ad on the right.
“Obviously, the fourth implied step is: ‘And smoke,’” Conforti said.
As these kinds of ads define what it means to be a woman, Conforti said, they also establish a benchmark against which girls and women measure themselves, having a cumulative impact that is more about long-term effects on lifestyle and less about one particular product.
R.J. Reynolds has said it will not advertise in print magazines in 2008. The Camel No. 9 campaign, however, continues online and through other promotional materials that are given away at bar parties.
“The innocence mixed with the sophistication – the roses and the pink mixed with the black — it’s the two sides that every girl wants to be,” Conforti said. “Sweet and sexy, sweet and sexy, that’s what women hear over and over again. You can either be an angel or a whore, and we don’t have a lot of choices for what’s right down the middle.”
Source: Kahrin Deines, Medill Reports/Chicago