Women and Tobacco: An Evolving Market

Chesterfield, Benson & Hedges, Lucky Strike, Satin, Raleigh -- all these brands spoke to women in the days when half of all Americans smoked.

They were dual-sex cigarettes; sometimes ads featured women lighting up, asserting their role in the 1920s voting-rights movement, America’s war success, or as a man’s smoking partner. Manufacturers touted smoking cigarettes as a way to stay thin -- Lucky Strike urged women to "reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet."

Though seen as the manliest of brands in the second half of the 20th century, Marlboro originated as a smoke "mild as May," with ivory tips. Cigarette marketing encouraged women to treat them as glamorous accessories. Philip Morris sponsored the enormously popular "I Love Lucy" television show.

In the late 1960s, Virginia Slims became the first cigarette made for women. Just in time for the women’s liberation movement, the Philip Morris brand grabbed attention with campaigns like "You’ve come a long way, baby," and "It’s a Woman Thing." Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co. introduced Eve in 1970, with flowery packaging and marking on the cigarettes.

Tobacco companies ceased TV ads in 1971, and focused the ad budget on event sponsorship. Nearly a third of American women were smokers. Spurred by Virginia Slims spokesperson and tennis pro Billie Jean King’s participation in the blockbuster Battle of the Sexes match against Bobby Riggs, Virginia Slims sponsored the Women’s Tennis Association tour until 1994.

In the 1980s, the Surgeon General published a study on the effects of smoking on women, advertising to women centered on independence, success, glamour, and fitness, and Brown & Williamson debuted Capri, another female-targeted slim cigarette. Advertising to women was prominent through the 1990s, while sentiment toward smoking soured and the number of smokers continued its two-decade decline.

At the opening of the 21st century, two years after the Master Settlement Agreement, 22.8 percent of American women smoked.

Virginia Slims and Capri are the most successful and long-lasting of the women’s brands, and in 2007, RJ Reynolds caused a stir with its introduction of Camel No. 9, and its sub-brand, Stiletto. The packaging is black and pink, the name evokes Chanel’s most-famous perfume, and the promotional giveaways at nightclubs include makeup and cigarettes. In 2009, Virginia Slims redesigned its Super Slims lights and ultra-lights packaging to be purse-friendly (called purse packs, actually).

And yet, though Marlboro began its brand life as a woman-friendly cigarette before gaining iconic status as a man’s man smoke, women smoke it more than any other brand. Another dual-sex brand successful with women is Camel.

Today, manufacturers are hesitant to admit to targeting women. David Howard, spokesman for R. J. Reynolds, makers of Capri (after RJR purchased Brown & Williamson) and Misty, says of those brands, "They certainly have a female demographic, but it’s not our focus."

Philip Morris’s Virginia Slims posted a 1.8 percent share of the overall cigarette market in 2009, according to the Symphony IRI Group. Greg Mathe, spokesman for Altria, Philip Morris’s parent company, said he didn’t know any specifics on Virginia Slims’ performance. Smokers are referred to by both tobacco giants as "adult," not men or women.

It isn’t hard to find print advertising targeting women tobacco users anymore, especially in the world outside of the U.S. In the U.S., it’s harder, but not impossible.

A Newport ad in Essence magazine:


With the rise of smokeless tobacco products, and specifically, spitless tobacco products, women have moved into the manufacturers’ crosshairs again.

Latina Magazine ran a series of Camel Snus ads and an ad for Camel Stiletto cigarettes.


These Camel Snus ads were found in women’s magazines Glamour and Marie Claire.



Swedish Match says 20 percent of snus users in Sweden are women -- about 252,000 in 2007. The discontinued Vertigo brand featured mini pouches, as Swedish Match found that women do not want their use of snus -- tucked under the upper lip -- to be noticeable. The packages were hourglass-shaped and deep-red, with a gold panel for one flavor and purple for another.

"For a long time, female snus users have been considered to be breaking into a male domain and many feel that they are forced to use male snus products," said Anna Lekander, press relations manager for the brand at Swedish Match AB. "Now we’re introducing a snus product that has been requested and developed by women. Vertigo is specially developed to meet women’s demand for a snus that is similar in character to tobacco and has an attractive packaging with high-quality function."

R. J. Reynolds’ dissolvables -- which include Camel Orbs, tobacco in mint-flavored pellets, and Camel Strips, which are similar to breath-freshening or medicinal strips that melt in the mouth -- could have a female market, RJR spokesman Howard told the New York Times in 2009. "

(The) early indication is that (snus are) largely skewed toward men," Howard said. "(With dissolvables) we have found that those products probably offer a better opportunity with women tobacco consumers."

Still, when RJR returned to print advertising in 2007, after a 15-month voluntary print-ad ban, it was to promote its new Camel Snus. One of the four ads in the weekend-entertainment magazine of a newspaper in a Camel Snus test-market featured a man and a woman and copy that read, "Can you Snus while flirting?" "Yes!" (http://goodhealth.freeservers.com/Camel_SNUS_ad_What%27s_UP_section_Raleigh_NewsandObserver.jpg_7_27_2007.jpg); another showed a man and woman in an airport gate seating area, with copy that read, "Can you Snus while waiting for your airline to resolve mechanical difficulties?" "Yes!" (http://goodhealth.freeservers.com/Camel_SNUS_ad_News_Observer_Whats_UP_7_13_2007_3_of_3.jpg) and a third displayed a woman behind a man on a motorcycle, with copy that read, "Can you Snus on a motorcycle?" "Yes!" (http://goodhealth.freeservers.com/Camel_SNUS_ad_News_Observer_Whats_UP_7_13_2007_2_of_3.jpg).

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