Tobacco Industry Studied How To Appeal to Women Smokers, Report Finds
Tobacco companies have performed "extensive studies" on gender preferences in smoking to help them design products that appeal specifically to women, according to a report in the June issue of the journal Addiction, Long Island Newsday reports. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health's Tobacco Research and Training Program examined more than seven million internal tobacco industry documents from 1969 to 2000 made public through the 1998 National Tobacco Settlement. Tobacco companies named in the documents included Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard (Rabin, Long Island Newsday, 6/1).
The researchers found that the tobacco companies examined ways to change cigarettes to "give women the illusion they could puff their way to a better life," the AP/Arizona Republic reports (Kunzelman, AP/Arizona Republic, 6/1). The companies considered chemically altering cigarettes to have tastes and scents that appealed to women, such as lemon, vanilla, marshmallow, coconut and chocolate. The companies also performed research that led them to conclude that women were more likely to be concerned about their health than men, which prompted the industry to begin offering low-tar and low-nicotine brands of cigarettes, despite the lack of evidence that such cigarettes are less harmful.
One Philip Morris document stated, "Perception is more important than reality, and in this case the perception is of reduced tobacco consumption." Other internal documents showed tobacco companies considered adding appetite suppressants to cigarettes to appeal to women hoping to control their weight. In addition, the companies studied how often and how deeply men and women inhaled smoke from cigarettes, how many cigarettes they smoked daily, and how much tar and deposits could be found in their lungs. The researchers also examined why men and women smoke, discovering that women are more likely to smoke to relieve depression or stress.
"This goes beyond marketing to actually chemically changing these products so as to exploit women's vulnerabilities to get them addicted to a product that kills 178,000 American women each year," lead author Carrie Murray Carpenter said.
Jack Henningfield, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who co-wrote an editorial accompanying the report, said, "This is much more than changing the colors on the cigarette packet to appeal to women" (Long Island Newsday, 6/1). He added that the report should serve as a "call to action" for government officials to focus their anti-smoking efforts on women, particularly those in developing countries. According to the authors, worldwide smoking rates among women are expected to increase 20% by 2025, largely because of growth in female markets in developing countries (AP/Arizona Republic, 6/1).
Representatives of R.J. Reynolds and Brown & Williamson did not respond to inquiries about the study. Ron Milstein, a vice president for Lorillard, said he had not read the study and could not comment. A spokesperson for Philip Morris also said he could not comment (Long Island Newsday, 6/1). A summary of the study is available online.