Tobacco companies chemically altered their cigarettes in a deliberate bid to make them more female-friendly and increase smoking rates among women and young girls.
New documents reveal that cigarette giants even looked at adding appetite suppressants to their brands to promote smoking as a form of weight control.
Published this week in the science journal Addiction, the papers show that tobacco firms spent more than 20 years, from the 1970s to 1990s, carrying out gender-based research to get women addicted to cigarettes.
The extent to which firms have designed cigarettes to appeal to women came to light after researchers at Harvard School of Public Health in the United States carried out a detailed analysis of internal papers from companies including Philip Morris.
Tobacco companies have always used advertising as a way of associating smoking with success and glamour. One brand of cigarettes that was marketed at women was Virginia Slims, launched by Philip Morris in 1968 with the slogan: “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Within six years of the launch, the percentage of women who smoked in the US nearly doubled.
However, the Harvard researchers found that attempts by the tobacco industry to get women hooked on cigarettes went far beyond traditional marketing methods and was far more extensive than previously believed. Many carried out wide-ranging scientific research to identify the psychological factors that drive women’s behaviour.
This led them to modify their cigarettes to make them easier for women to inhale on their products. Cigarette designs and ingredients were changed to make them more palatable to female smokers.
The findings are expected to have huge implications for women in developing countries. While smoking rates among men are declining, the number of women who smoke is expected to rise to 20 per cent worldwide over the next decade.
Much of the growth is in the developing world where the number of women with a tobacco habit is expected to double over the next 20 years as a result of aggressive marketing by cigarette companies.
Clampdowns on tobacco advertising by Western governments have prompted tobacco manufacturers to look elsewhere for opportunities to push their brands, especially countries where female smokers are in the minority.
Ash, the anti-smoking charity, said it was very concerned. “Cigarette companies have always used images to market their brands to women, for example associating brands with independence and success,” said a spokeswoman. “But new curbs mean they are turning to the Third World, where the difference in the number of male and female smokers is enormous. This is a huge cause for concern.” ©2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.