The Tobacco Industry Has A History of Targeting Women

July 2, 2021

Virginia Slims was the first and most popular female-specific cigarette brand. Philip Morris launched the brand in 1968 at the height of the women’s liberation movement with the slogan, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!”

Philip Morris portrayed smart, independent, empowered, thin women and implied that smoking is part of these healthy women’s lives.

The reality is, however, that cigarettes are addictive. Smoking leads to disease and death, not a healthy lifestyle. Yet, despite decades of evidence to the contrary, Philip Morris continues to promote Virginia Slims with the same false campaign messages of success, beauty and independence that they have for over four decades.

Targeting women was very effective; just six years after the introduction of Virginia Slims and other female-targeted campaigns, the smoking rate of 12-year-old girls increased by 110 percent.1

The tobacco industry is setting its sights on women in developing nations, where basic education, let alone tobacco education, is often non-existent or denied to women.

In 2006, R.J. Reynolds (RJR) launched Camel No. 9 cigarettes, aimed at women, spending up to $50 million on marketing to launch the new brand.2

How did Camel No. 9 promotional activities (images above) attract teenage girls?

  • The cigarettes are packaged in shiny black boxes with hot pink or teal trim with a logo that matches the one on the cigarette pack.
  • “Camel No. 9” is similar in name to “Chanel No. 9,” the iconic perfume.
  • Print ads were placed in magazines popular with teens: Vogue, Glamour, Cosmopolitan and In Style.
  • It was linked to “style” and touted the “stiletto” version of the cigarettes.
  • It tapped new designers, like Project Runway’s Santino, to design cigarette packs and accessories.
  • Ladies’ nights were held in bars, incorporating manicures, facials, make-up and hair styling.
  • Advertising promoted these cigarettes as part of a fashionable outfit.

RJR also promoted Camel Snus with a 17-page purse-sized pink booklet. At first glance, it appears that it is targeting adult males. However, when read more closely, it appeals more to young women by referencing “commuting essentials” such as a change purse, pepper spray and romance novel.

References renameme

  1. Pierce, J.P., Lee, L., & Gilpin, E.A., "Smoking Initiation by Adolescent Girls, 1944 through 1988: An association with targeted advertising," Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) 271:8, 1994.
  2. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "Deadly in Pink: Big Tobacco Steps Up Its Targeting of Women and Girls." Princeton, NJ. February 18, 2009.
  3. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US Mortality Data, 1960 to 2006, National Center for Health Statistics, 2009.
  4. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Productivity Losses—United States, 2000–2004. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2008;57(45):1226–8.
  5. U.S. Health and Human Services, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. 2006.