Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids Background Info on Women, Girls and Tobacco
WASHINGTON, June 27 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The following was released today by the Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids:
On Thursday, July 5, at 10 p.m. ET, ABC will air an hour-long special entitled "Women and Cigarettes: A Fatal Attraction" that details the d
Background on Women & Girls and Tobacco
For decades, the tobacco industry has targeted women and girls with its marketing and advertising, with disastrous consequences for women's health. As a result, 165,000 women die of tobacco-caused disease each year. Since 1987, lung cancer has been the leading cancer killer among women. Heart disease is the overall leading cause of death among women, and smoking accounts for one of every five deaths from heart disease. For many of the diseases caused by smoking, research has shown that women are more at risk than men. And women also suffer gender-specific risks from tobacco, including harm to their reproductive health and complications during pregnancy.
Tobacco Industry Targeting of Women and Girls
The tobacco industry has a long history of targeting its advertising at women and girls dating back to the 1920s. This strategy intensified in 1968 when Philip Morris launched the first woman-specific brand, Virginia Slims, with its seductive "You've Come a Long Way Baby" advertising campaign. This and similar ad campaigns cynically equated smoking with independence, sophistication and beauty and preyed on the unique social pressures that women and girls face. These campaigns sought to take advantage of the impact that the women's liberation movement was having on the role and images of women in America. The marketing of cigarettes as "slims" or "thins" played into social pressures on young women to control their weight, manage stress, and appear grown up.
As women's concerns about the health risks of smoking grew, the tobacco companies in the 1970s began promoting "low tar" or "light" cigarettes to women as a "softer" or even "safer" option. Today, women smokers are more likely than their male counterparts to smoke light and ultra-light cigarettes (63 percent vs. 46 percent), and women are more likely than men to switch to these cigarettes(1,2).
The tobacco industry continued to market these products despite being aware that the actual or implied health claims in their ads were either misleading or entirely false. In fact, studies have shown that the introduction of "lights" did not improve the public health and may have led to an increase in the incidence of disease caused by smoking. That is because the introduction of lights led many smokers not to quit and smokers of lights compensate by smoking more, inhaling more deeply or blocking ventilation holes (3).
The targeting of women and girls continues today, both for cigarettes marketed specifically to women and dual sex brands. A recent Virginia Slims' ad campaign told women that smoking could help them "Find Your Voice" until Philip Morris' chief executive agreed to remove the slogan in June 2000 after being questioned in the landmark Florida smokers' trial about whether it might be offensive to smokers with throat cancer (4). Still, Virginia Slims is the most popular female-specific brand. Philip Morris has also proved that it does not need feminine imagery to capture the female market. For years now, more women and girls have smoked Marlboro than any other brand, testifying to the lure of the Marlboro Man and the brand's independent and fun-loving imagery (5).
The Consequences: An Epidemic of Addiction, Disease and Death
These tobacco industry marketing practices have had disastrous consequences for the health of women and girls. Six years after the introduction of Virginia Slims and other brands aimed at the female market, the smoking initiation rate of 12-year-old girls had increased by 110 percent. Increases among teenage girls of other ages were also substantial (6).
Smoking among girls and young women has increased dramatically in the 1990s. From 1991 to 1999, smoking among high school girls increased from 27 to 34.9 percent (7). Twenty-two percent of American adult women are current smokers, compared to 26 percent of men (8). Altogether in the United States, more than 22 million adult women and 1.5 million girls currently smoke, putting their health at significant risk.
Cardiovascular disease: Cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes, is the overall leading cause of death among women, and smoking accounts for one of every five deaths from cardiovascular disease. Altogether, cardiovascular disease kills more than half a million women each year, more than the next 14 causes of death combined. Women who smoke are two to six times as likely to suffer a heart attack as non-smoking women, and women smokers have a higher relative risk of developing cardiovascular disease than men do (9).
Lung Cancer: Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer among women, and smoking causes 82 percent of all lung cancer cases among women. Lung cancer death rates among women increased by more than 400 percent between 1960 and 1990. By 1987, lung cancer had passed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths among women. Women who smoke at the same rate as men are also at greater risk of developing lung cancer than men are (10).
Other Cancers: Smoking causes 30 percent of all cancer deaths. Smoking is a known cause of cancer of the lung, larynx, oral cavity and esophagus and has been associated with bladder, kidney, pancreatic and stomach cancer. Women smokers have an increased risk of cervical and vulvar cancer (11).
Reproductive Health: The reproductive side effects of smoking include menstrual problems, reduced fertility and premature menopause. Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke among pregnant women are a major cause of spontaneous abortions, stillbirths and sudden infant death syndrome and increase the risk of low-birth-weight babies and health and developmental problems of children born to these women. Nevertheless, an estimated 20 percent of pregnant women smoke (12).
Ultimately, women also have a more difficult time quitting smoking than men do. They have lower cessation rates, and girls and women aged 12-24 are more likely to report being unable to cut down on smoking than men and boys the same age (13).
The Policy Response: FDA Regulation of Tobacco
The tobacco industry's aggressive targeting of women and girls demands an equally aggressive response from public policymakers. Specifically, Congress must grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration effective authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products. Legislation pending in both the House and Senate would grant the FDA the authority to:
-- Restrict tobacco company marketing that impacts youth, including marketing aimed at girls.
-- Ensure that tobacco products are not sold illegally to children.
-- Prohibit or restrict unsubstantiated health claims or health claims that discourage people from quitting or encourage them to start using tobacco. As the tobacco industry prepares to market the next generation of allegedly "reduced risk" products, the FDA should have the authority to stop a repetition of the "lights" public health disaster that has disproportionately affected women.
-- Regulate the tobacco industry in the same way that it regulates other manufacturers of consumable products, including requiring the disclosure of ingredients and additives and the reduction or elimination of harmful components when technologically possible.
Congress should respond to the growing evidence of the tobacco industry's deception and wrongdoing, including its targeting of women and girls, by acting quickly and effectively to address the epidemic of disease and death caused by tobacco.