WEDNESDAY, Feb. 18 (HealthDay News) -- New tobacco company marketing campaigns that target women and girls are the most aggressive in more than a decade, a new report concludes.
That marketing needs to be curbed by giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products, according to the report, released Wednesday by a coalition of major U.S. public health organizations.
Campaigns launched in recent years by the nation's two largest tobacco companies -- Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds -- depict cigarette smoking as feminine and fashionable rather than the harmful and deadly addiction it really is, according to Deadly in Pink: Big Tobacco Steps Up Its Targeting of Women and Girls. The report was issued by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Late last year, for example, Philip Morris USA announced it would sell its Virginia Slims brand in "purse packs" -- small, rectangular cigarette packs that are half the size of regular cigarette packs. The packs resemble cosmetics cases and come in mauve and teal.
And in early 2007, R.J. Reynolds introduced a new version of its Camel cigarettes, called Camel No. 9. The name evokes famous Chanel perfumes, and the cigarettes are packaged in shiny black boxes with hot pink and teal borders. Magazine ads for the cigarettes featured flowery imagery, vintage fashion and promotional giveaways that included lip balm, cell phone jewelry, tiny purses and wristbands, all in hot pink.
"These new marketing campaigns by Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds show contempt for the health of women and girls," Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a news release. "The tobacco industry's aggressive marketing demands an equally aggressive response from our nation's elected leaders. By granting the FDA authority over tobacco products, the Congress can crack down on the industry's most harmful practices."
The new campaigns are the latest in the tobacco industry's long history of targeting women and girls, the report said.
Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Altria, Philip Morris's parent company in Richmond, Va., took issue with the way the Virginia Slims marketing program was characterized in the report.
"Our products and marketing are meant for adults who smoke," Phelps said. "In the case of Virginia Slims, that's adult women over the age of 21 who smoke."
He added that women can obtain the material being offered by Virginia Slims only by requesting it through Philip Morris's direct mail campaign, and those requesting smoking material must provide valid identification that they were over the age of 21.
"The only other way we market our cigarettes is in stores," Phelps added. "And the primary reason for that is to let the customer know the product is in that store and how much it costs."
Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death among women, killing more than 170,000 women in the United States each year, according to the report. Lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer of U.S. women, and deaths are not decreasing among women as they are among men, according to cancer statistics released in December. In addition to lung cancer, smoking increases women's and girls' risk of numerous serious health problems, including heart attack, stroke, emphysema and many other types of cancer.