Report Highlights Tobacco Industry’s Predatory Marketing Techniques to Women

 Published: June 2, 2021

By: Anne Marie Hummel


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Did you know, that for the first time ever, women who smoke are just as likely as men to die from many of the diseases caused by smoking, such as heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, emphysema, and other serious chronic illnesses? A new report titled, “A Lifetime of Damage: How Big Tobacco’s Predatory Marketing Harms the Health of Women and Girls,” details the tobacco industry’s history of predatory marketing. It highlights how these tactics have lured and addicted millions of women and girls to using tobacco products that have resulted in damaging consequences for women’s health that occur over their lifespans.

The report highlights the tobacco industry’s long-term use of campaigns with themes of beauty, sophistication, weight loss, fashion, and freedom that span decades. Beginning in the 1920s, Marlboro portrayed smoking as feminine with their slogan “Mild as May,” complete with greaseproof tips to protect lipstick from smudging, and Lucky Strike urged women to “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet,” which led to a more than 300% increase in brand sales during their first year of the advertising campaign according to the report. During the 1960s, the theme in advertising was about the women’s liberation movement especially toward the end of the decade. Those of you of a certain age will surely remember the slogan “You’ve come a long way, baby,” marketed by Virginia Slims, who for many years was also a leading sponsor of the Women’s Tennis Association where they gave out free samples of cigarettes to women who attended national tennis tournaments.


But big tobacco didn’t stop there. As “low tar” and “light” cigarettes were touted as safer options, women quickly switched to those products. Now in the digital age, new products and fresh marketing continues with common themes that promote e-cigarette products like Juul as well as Philip Morris’ IQOS heated cigarette. With the development of social media platforms, marketing by tobacco companies has switched from magazine pages to online where women can share new brands with curated photo backdrops with their friends on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. All of this has led to important takeaways on the influence of the tobacco industry in specifically targeting women and girls that are highlighted in the report. For example,

  • More than 16 million women and girls in the U.S. currently smoke, putting them at risk for the serious and deadly diseases caused by smoking.
  • Over 200,000 women die in the U.S. every year due to smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Ninety percent of adult smokers begin smoking in their teens or earlier, and two thirds become regular, daily smokers before they reach age 19.
  • Youth e-cigarette use is at “epidemic levels, with nearly 1 in 5 high school girls now using e-cigarettes according to reports from the Surgeon General and the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Approximately 70% of women smokers are interested in quitting and each year 55% make a quit attempt. With nicotine being a powerfully addictive drug, quitting often takes multiple attempts before it sticks.

The report offers proven solutions to help women and girls quit smoking and prevent young girls from starting to use tobacco products. Key among them is expanding the availability and promotion of smoking cessation treatments and ensuring women receive advice to quit from their health care providers and that’s where respiratory therapists can make a significant difference. Respiratory therapists know the devastating effects of cigarette use and can offer smoking cessation counseling and other advice that can help their patients quit.

We urge you to read this report. Consider the solutions outlined in the report to help your patients, armed with additional knowledge about how big tobacco is still progressively targeting women and girls to smoke by exploiting their aspirations and desires and preying on image concerns and perceived insecurities. In addition to your expertise in smoking cessation counseling, it will give you a better understanding of the outside influences that increase the incidence of smoking among women and girls.

Email with questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Anne Marie Hummel

Anne Marie Hummel is the AARC’s Associate Executive Director for Advocacy and Government Affairs where she brings her years of regulatory experience in the Federal Government to overseeing federal and state legislative and regulatory policies that impact the respiratory care profession. Check out AARC’s Advocacy menu on our website to learn more. Outside of work, Anne Marie loves interior design, tackling 1000-piece puzzles and spending time with her granddaughter.

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