WEDNESDAY, Feb. 18, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- New tobacco company marketing campaigns that target women and girls are the most aggressive in more than a decade, a new report concludes.
That marketing needs to be curbed by giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products, according to the report, released Wednesday by a coalition of major U.S. public health organizations.
Campaigns launched in recent years by the nation's two largest tobacco companies -- Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds -- depict cigarette smoking as feminine and fashionable rather than the harmful and deadly addiction it really is, according to Deadly in Pink: Big Tobacco Steps Up Its Targeting of Women and Girls. The report was issued by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Late last year, for example, Philip Morris USA announced it would sell its Virginia Slims brand in "purse packs" -- small, rectangular cigarette packs that are half the size of regular cigarette packs. The packs resemble cosmetics cases and come in mauve and teal.
And in early 2007, R.J. Reynolds introduced a new version of its Camel cigarettes, called Camel No. 9. The name evokes famous Chanel perfumes, and the cigarettes are packaged in shiny black boxes with hot pink and teal borders. Magazine ads for the cigarettes featured flowery imagery, vintage fashion and promotional giveaways that included lip balm, cell phone jewelry, tiny purses and wristbands, all in hot pink.
"These new marketing campaigns by Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds show contempt for the health of women and girls," Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a news release. "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."
The new campaigns are the latest in the tobacco industry's long history of targeting women and girls, the report said.
Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Altria, Philip Morris's parent company in Richmond, Va., took issue with the way the Virginia Slims marketing program was characterized in the report.
"Our products and marketing are meant for adults who smoke," Phelps said. "In the case of Virginia Slims, that's adult women over the age of 21 who smoke."
He added that women can obtain the material being offered by Virginia Slims only by requesting it through Philip Morris's direct mail campaign, and those requesting smoking material must provide valid identification that they were over the age of 21.
"The only other way we market our cigarettes is in stores," Phelps added. "And the primary reason for that is to let the customer know the product is in that store and how much it costs."
Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death among women, killing more than 170,000 women in the United States each year, according to the report. Lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer of U.S. women, and deaths are not decreasing among women as they are among men, according to cancer statistics released in December. In addition to lung cancer, smoking increases women's and girls' risk of numerous serious health problems, including heart attack, stroke, emphysema and many other types of cancer.
"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," John R. Seffrin, chief executive of the American Cancer Society and its affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said in the news release. "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."
Though they're the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., tobacco products are virtually exempt from regulation. That would change if the FDA gains authority over tobacco products, said the health coalition, which is urging Congress to pass legislation expected to be reintroduced by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts.
The legislation would:
- Restrict tobacco marketing that appeals to children
- Ban misleading health claims, such as "light" and "low tar" and strictly regulate all health claims about tobacco products
- Require larger, more effective health warnings on tobacco packages and advertising
- Require tobacco companies to disclose the contents of their products
- Grant the FDA authority to require changes in new and existing tobacco products to protect public health, such as the removal or reduction of harmful ingredients
"This report is a sober reminder that the tobacco industry has become more aggressive in marketing deadly products to women," Nancy Brown, chief executive of the American Heart Association, said in the news release. "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."
Phelps also took issue with Brown's statement that the FDA should rein in the industry.
"We (Philip Morris) support federal regulation of tobacco products by the FDA and have done so for the past eight years. So while I don't agree with that particular accusation against us, the public should be aware that we support FDA regulation of tobacco products," he said.
The American Cancer Society has more about women and smoking.