The Alliance of Boulder County
on Tobacco and Health
Alliance, Tobacco as a Problem for Women
June 18, 2001
Smoking Clouds Women's Futures
Fasten your seat belts, ladies. If you thought the recent news about smoking
was bad, just wait until you see what Tuesday brings.
First the Federal Trade Commission announced that tobacco companies spent
$8.24 billion on ads and promotions in 1999, the most ever in one year. Now
the first surgeon general's report on women and smoking in 20 years will be
released Tuesday. It will paint a gloomy picture of the rise in
smoking-related illnesses and deaths among women, and lay much of the blame on
tobacco- marketing strategies that target women.
Many women and girls don't seem to be getting the message about smoking's
dangers. For the first time, girls now are smoking at about the same rate as
boys. And most women have a dangerous misperception about one of smoking's
worst results: lung cancer.
Four out of five women surveyed by the American Legacy Foundation in January
said breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women. They are
dead wrong. About 40% fewer women die from breast cancer than from lung
cancer, which kills 67,600 annually. Nor did the majority of the more than
1,000 women surveyed know that heart disease, which also is smoking-related,
is the No. 1 killer of women.
Perhaps women are more aware of breast cancer because there are more
breast-cancer survivors to share their stories. Breast cancer has a 96%
five-year survival rate if detected early. But more than 85% of lung-cancer
victims die within five years of diagnosis. It's a preventable tragedy: 87% of
lung-cancer cases in women wouldn't occur if they never smoked.
- by Cheryl Healton
- USA Today, Monday, 3/26/01
'Blow some my way'
One reason women don't recognize or ignore lung cancer's dangers is tobacco
advertising, which long has linked smoking with values that many women (and
men) care about: independence, sophistication, sex appeal, appearance. An
early 20th century ad proclaimed, "Cigarettes are like girls — the best
ones are rich and thin," and a billboard from that era showed a woman
asking a male smoker to "Blow some my way." During the height of
the women's liberation movement, a determined-looking woman in one ad said,
"Until I find a real man, I'll settle for a real smoke."
The Virginia Slims campaign launched in the 1960s carried the slogan,
"You've come a long way, baby." Today, the girls and women lured
into smoking by that campaign are older, wiser — and, in many cases, dead.
Recently, a "Find Your Voice" Virginia Slims campaign targeted
vulnerable women in racial and ethnic groups. Smoking has risen among poor
women, and the impact on their families' budgets — to say nothing of their
health — can be devastating. In New York City, a family with two parents who
each smoke two packs a day could pay about $140 a week for cigarettes, or
roughly $600 per month. That's more than 40% of the income of a family of four
living at the poverty line.
The influence of ad revenues
Also troubling is the way ad dollars influence the coverage of the tobacco
issue by women's magazines. Michigan researcher Ken Warner found that the
more tobacco-ad dollars that women's magazines take in, the less coverage they
give to smoking. Sadly, only a handful of women's magazines decline the
tobacco advertising that undermines the health of their readers.
About 140,000 U.S. women die of smoking-related illnesses annually. The
tobacco marketers simply replenish their customer base with the hundreds of
thousands of teenagers who start smoking every year. The tobacco industry's
marketing campaign has been so effective that smoking-related illnesses kill
more Americans every year than car accidents, alcohol, AIDS, murders,
suicides, drugs and fires combined.
Tuesday, the surgeon general will tell us much more about women and smoking.
Meanwhile, the solution remains the same: Force the tobacco companies to stop
"blowing some" our way.
Cheryl Healton is president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation,
established two years ago to advocate reduced tobacco use after an agreement
among state attorneys general and the tobacco industry.
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