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Harvard U: Tobacco Firms Target Women

Tobacco companies did elaborate research on women to figure out how to hook them on smoking, according to a new analysis by researchers at Harvard University's School of Public Health.

The researchers examined more than 7 million documents, some dating back to 1969 and others as recent as 2000, for new details about the industry's efforts to persuade women to smoke, according to an Associated Press report.

Carrie Carpenter, the study's lead author, said companies' research went far beyond a marketing or advertising campaign. “Women should know how far the tobacco industry went to exploit them,” she said.

The study's results, published in the June issue of the journal Addiction, said tobacco companies looked for ways to modify their cigarettes to give women the illusion they could puff their way into a better life. One of the documents, a 1993 internal report from Philip Morris, extolled the virtues of making a longer, slimmer cigarette that offered the false promise of a “healthier” product.

“Most smokers have little notion of their brand's tar and nicotine levels,” the report stated. “Perception is more important than reality, and in this case the perception is of reduced tobacco consumption.”

A Philip Morris spokesman declined to comment on the report, saying the company hasn't had a chance to fully review it.

The Harvard researchers spent more than a year sifting through an online database of internal documents made public following the 1998 settlement between tobacco companies and 46 states. Carpenter said they found at least 320 documents that focused on women's smoking patterns, including a 1982 report from British-American Tobacco Co. that said women buy cigarettes to help them “cope with neuroticism.”

Other internal studies showed that companies explored adding appetite suppressants to cigarettes.

In 1980, for instance, R.J. Reynolds Co. proposed creating a cigarette with a “unique flavor that decreases a smoker's appetite, including brandy, chocolate, chocolate mint, cinnamon, spearmint and honey.” Researchers didn't find any evidence they followed through with that idea.
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