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Excerpts from Big Tobacco and Women...what the tobacco industry's confidential documents reveal
Action on Smoking and Health (UK), Cancer Research Campaign - 22nd November 1998
Action on Smoking and Health, 16 Fitzhardinge Street, London W1H 9PL,
Cancer Research Campaign, 10 Cambridge Terrace, London NW1 4JL, United
This report is a supplement to ASH's Tobacco Explained research project which is a survey of thousands of tobacco industry documents that have been revealed in the course of litigation in the United States. For this supplement we have examined the documents that describe the tobacco industry's approach to women. Tobacco Explained is available on the ASH web site at location http://www.ash.org.uk/papers/tobexpld.html
"Women smokers are likely to increase as a percentage of the total. Women are adopting more dominant roles in society: they have increased spending power, they live longer than men. And as a recent official report showed, they seem to be less influenced by the anti-smoking campaigns than their male counterparts."
"All in all, that makes women a prime target as far as any alert European marketing man is concerned. So, despite previous hesitancy, might we now expect to see a more defined attack on the important market segment represented by female smokers?"1
The trade journal Tobacco Reporter gives its vision of the future. (1982)
In 1960, 40% of women in Britain smoked cigarettes. For men the smoking rate was 60%. By the mid-1990s, the rate for men had dropped by nearly half to 32%, while the rate for women had dropped by just one quarter to 30%2. In the 1990s, forty years after evidence of the link between smoking and lung cancer first came to light, the rate of female smoking has almost caught up with that of men, (the USA, Australia and other European countries show similar trends). Among teenagers the smoking rate for girls is rising fastest: in some countries they are now out-smoking their male counterparts for the first time in history.
Although still thought of by many as male diseases, rates of lung cancer and heart disease among women have risen to mirror their smoking rate. Women enjoy no mysterious immunity: in some parts of the UK lung cancer now kills more women than any other cancer. Heart disease is Britain's biggest overall killer of women.
The causes of these trends are complex. Factors such as the changing position of women in society, their increasing social and economic independence and the past failures of the anti-smoking lobby and health promotion agencies to present smoking and its effects as a problem relevant to women need to be taken into account.
The key cause, though, is without doubt the vast effort with which the tobacco industry has set out to target women with its products. A specific campaign has aimed to increase the market for cigarettes among women, partly in response to falling demand among men, but also simply to expand the market.
The tobacco industry spends vast sums of money each year persuading people to take up or continue smoking. In its own words, the industry is "a monster which has to be fed"3. The industry sees women as a territory to be conquered and a large portion of this total expenditure is aimed in their direction. Statistics on cessation, uptake and disease reflect this effort.
Tobacco industry statements, and documents subpoenaed in a series of American legal cases, show how:
The industry's strategy is to segment the market so it can better respond to the "wants and needs of women" - i.e. so it can target its products more effectively. The industry has conducted a vast amount of research on women to enable more effective targeting. The industry feels that women are less influenced than men by anti-smoking campaigns, i.e. that once they've started they find it harder to give up. The industry views underage women as part of its target market and has aimed products at these women. As part of a policy of segmenting the market the industry has developed products aimed specifically at black women and women on low incomes. Aware that women are generally more concerned than men about health issues, the industry has largely aimed the low tar brands at women, in an effort to stop women quitting. It promotes these products as less dangerous despite its own evidence which shows that the health benefits are extremely low or zero. The industry has attacked and attempted to refute all the health effects that smoking has on women, both those specific to women and those which affect both sexes. It has fostered the idea that the big three smoking diseases - lung cancer, heart disease, and chronic bronchitis (chronic pulmonary obstruction) - are male diseases and that purely because of gender, women may be less at risk. The industry has denied and countered evidence that smoking can affect the foetus.
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