Targeting Women and Girls

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Throughout all our packaging qualitative research, we continue to validate that women are particularly involved with the aesthetics of packaging …we sense that women are a primary target for our innovative packaging task, and that more fashionable feminine packaging can enhance the relevance of some of our brands”. Philip Morris, in 1992[1]
An example of Slim cigarettes, which are targeted at women
With restrictions on advertisements for cigarettes and the upcoming rules for Plain Packaging, the industry is desperately looking for new ways to reach the public and potential customers. When Kate Moss walked down a Parisian catwalk with a cigarette in her first appearance in three years, for Louis Vuitton in the Louvre and... on No Smoking Day! - this was widely understood as a message that smoking was back in fashion.

Slim Cigarettes

Targeting women
In August 2011 Imperial Tobacco became the third major cigarette supplier to launch a "stylish new cigarette brand". Promoted as the first superslim brand in the value-price cigarette sector, the standard pack is embossed with a "stylish pink design", "clearly designed to appeal to female smokers" reports The Grocer.[2]

It is hard to believe that the wider tobacco industry was not involved in this fashion statement; each of the main companies launched female-targeted brands around the same time. In April 2011 BAT introduced Vogue Perle, described as 'the UK's first demi-slim cigarette'. Philip Morris launched Virginia S by Raffles and Japan Tobacco International brought out limited edition 'V-shaped' packs of Silk Cut a month earlier.

The advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi analysed the design of the Vogue packets.

They evoke the classic days of smoking – Jean Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle comes to mind... The smoker feels like a French movie star, as opposed to an addict. And the price premium (£6.20) keeps the ‘vagabonds’ away. Altogether, Vogue is trying to capitalise on a woman’s desire to feel beautiful to sell their cigarettes, which is sad because they can only destroy it. [3]

Cancer Research UK, doctors and campaign group Fresh, Smoke Free North East were appalled by these new lines of cigarettes. "Young women are obsessed with fashion and staying slim and this is exactly the message this pack is trying to give," commented Dr Shonag Mackenzie, consultant obstetrician at Wansbeck Hospital in Northumberland to retail magazine The Grocer.[4] "It is young teenage girls who don't yet smoke but are probably experimenting who are most likely to be influenced by this."

British American Tobacco defended itself against claims it "downplayed" the health risks associated with smoking in favour of the "trappings of style, supermodels and staying slim". In response to the criticisms, the company said it did not encourage any individual to start smoking, and used the free choice argument. "Adult smokers have different tastes and preferences and we set out to meet them with our portfolio of brands," BAT head of corporate and regulatory affairs Ian Robertson told The Grocer. "If adult women who are aware of the health risks ­associated with tobacco choose to smoke, then that is a personal choice."

Slimmer Cigarettes will be "Big Money Earners"

In December 2011, Retail Newsagent magazine ran the headline that "slimmer cigarettes will be big money earners". The magazine noted that independent shops "still stand to make a profit on slimmer cigarettes targeted at women smokers, according to British American Tobacco. [5]

Smoking and Slimming

Recent research confirms the perceived links between the new branding, harmfulness and weight control.

Targeting women

Smokers wrongly believe that certain words, such as the names of colours, and long, slim cigarettes mean the brand is less harmful, according to a study that included 8,000 people (2,000 Britons), published in Addiction. About one-fifth of those smokers think that ‘silver’, ‘gold’ and ‘white’ brands are less harmful to smoke than ‘black’ or ‘red’ brands. Professor David Hammond, a tobacco industry expert at Waterloo University, Ontario and one of the researchers on the study, says that the study provides evidence for further regulation: “The findings highlight the deceptive potential of ‘slim’ cigarette brands targeted primarily at young women." [6]

Female branded packs are associated with a greater number of positive attributes including glamour, slimness and attractiveness. Furthermore, those looking at female-oriented cigarette packs branded with words such as "slim" and "vogue" are more likely to believe smoking helps people control their appetite compared with those viewing plain packaging. Weight control issues are an important predictor of smoking among girls according to a Canadian study of 500 young women, published in Tobacco Control also in April 2011. [7]

However, the connection between smoking and slimming is not as strange as it seems, as is shown by recent research into internal industry documents dating from 1949 to 1999.

Tobacco companies have successfully used several strategies over the past 50 years to convince people that smoking makes you thin. British and American tobacco companies deliberately added powerful appetite-suppressing chemicals to cigarettes to attract people worried about their weight.

Tobacco giants Philip Morris and British American Tobacco added appetite suppressants to cigarettes. Four other major companies tested potential chemicals including amphetamine and nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas. But because the documents are incomplete, it is not clear if such chemicals were ever added and sold to the public. [8]

Professor David Hammond, the tobacco industry expert from Canada, told the Independent:

We know the industry explored ways to exploit concerns about weight loss back in the Sixties, because they knew it was an issue that concerned women, who they wanted to recruit as smokers. We don't know if appetite-suppressing molecules are still added, because compliance with additive regulations is poor and sensitive internal documents are usually shredded. [9]

Smoking and Girls

Smoking has long been a men's thing, but in the 1990s girls started to overtake boys as smokers. In 2004, 26 per cent of 15-year-old girls smoked compared with 16 per cent of boys. The gap has narrowed since, according to ASH statistics, but in 2009 girls are still more likely to smoke than boys.

In The Guardian Anne Karpf devoted a long article to Smoke and Minors trying to find out why more teenage girls smoke than boys:

Forget BlackBerrys or wedges: the most desirable accessory for huge numbers of adolescent girls today is a cigarette. There has long been a synergy between the changing self-image of girls and the wiles of the tobacco industry. Smoking was described by one team of researchers as a way in which some adolescent girls express their resistance to the "good girl" feminine identity. In 2011, when Kate Moss creates controversy by puffing away on the Louis Vuitton catwalk and Lady Gaga breaks the law by lighting up on stage, cigarettes have clearly lost none of their transgressive appeal.[10]

BAT and Women

The introduction of cigarettes targeted at females coincided with a public outcry about British American Tobacco (BAT) sponsoring the academic careers of four Afghan girls. In May 2011, Durham University was criticised for accepting a £125,000 donation from towards the Chancellor's Scholarships for Afghan Women appeal. The appeal assists women for five years to come to Durham from Kabul University to study their postgraduate degrees.

Robin Hewings, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco control policy manager, stated that BAT's Vogue advertising puts this sponsorship in a different light, because it shows the real nature of BAT’s concern for women. The tobacco industry is energetically fighting against the idea of plain packaging because they fear that it will work – and so hurt their profits, Hewings wrote.

Spending £125,000 to seem like the kind of caring people who pay for Afghan women to study at university is small change to this company. But when 5,500 people die from smoking every year in the University’s region, Durham University should return the money.[3]

A group of concerned academics told Durham Students Union (DSU) newspaper Palatinate: "The poor judgement in taking funding from the profits of a universally-maligned tobacco giant speaks volumes for the contempt that the university's leaders and fundraisers have for the ethos and values of this university and its staff and students." Anti-smoking charity ASH also critized the donation : "There's no stunt they wont pull to try to look like responsible citizens. The truth is they deal in death."

A spokeswoman for BAT argued the company had not donated the money in a bid to encourage Afghan women to start smoking. She told The Northern Echo it was all above the board, as a part of the company's corporate responsibility programme.[11]

Notes

  1. Philip Morris, Marketing Perceptions, 1992
  2. Helen Gilbert, "Now Imperial offers the ladies a stylish new cigarette brand", The Grocer, 6 August 2011, p25
  3. 3.0 3.1 Robin Hewings Durham University should return British American Tobacco’s money, Science Update Blog, Cancer Research UK, 31 May 2011, accessed 23 June 2011
  4. Sonya Hook, "BAT claims Vogue launch is not a fashion statement", The Grocer, 6 June 2011, accessed 23 June 2011,
  5. Steven Lambert, "Slimmer Cigarettes will be big money earners", Retail Newsagent, 30 December 2011
  6. Mutti S., Hammond D., Borland R., Cummings K.M., O’Connor R.J., and Fong G.T. "Beyond light and mild: Cigarette brand descriptors and perceptions of risk in the International Tobacco Control", Four Country Survey, Addiction, April, 2011, accessed 23 June 2011
  7. Doxey, J., Hammond, D, Deadly in pink: the impact of cigarette packaging among young women Tobacco Control, 8 April 2011, accessed 23 June 2011
  8. Semira Gonseth, Isabelle Jacot-Sadowski1, Pascal A. Diethelm, Vincent Barras, Jacques Cornuz1, The tobacco industry’s past role in weight control related to smoking, European Journal of Public Health, Received October 29, 2010, Accepted February 10, 2011
  9. Nina Lakhani, Tobacco firms used diet-aid chemicals, "Internal documents reveal that appetite suppressants were added to cigarettes as companies pitched their products to women", The Independent, 24 April 2011, accessed 23 June 2011
  10. Anne Karpf, Smoke and Minors "More teenage girls smoke than boys. Could it be because the tobacco industry plays on their desire to look fun, feel confident and stay thin?" The Guardian, Friday 3 June 2011, accessed 23 June 2011
  11. Joe Wills, University comes under fire for accepting donation, The Northern Echo, 16 May 2011, accessed June 2011