I was a pre-teen when the Virginia Slims cigarette marketing campaign was in full force in the late 1960s. I can still remember the "You've come a long way, baby" commercials. I even ordered a free Virginia Slims day planner from a magazine advertisement. The planner contained pictures of independent, fashionable and strong looking young women. I thought it was very cool even though I had a vague feeling I was being manipulated. Fortunately, I didn't think smoking was as interesting as the planner.
But the campaign attracted millions of women to cigarettes, and we're now seeing the effects. Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in women. Since 1950, lung cancer death rates for U.S. women have increased by about 600%. The vast majority of people who smoke take it up during adolescence, so preventing smoking in young people is key to reducing the damage from smoking-related diseases.
But if you think teenagers today are less susceptible to smoking advertisements, you would be sadly mistaken. A study published this week in the journal Pediatrics shows that the 2007 R.J. Reynolds' cigarette campaign for Camel No. 9 had a significant impact on teen girls. Researchers at UC San Diego and the American Legacy Foundation enrolled more than 1,000 children, ages 10-13, in a study in 2003 and followed them through 2008, asking them their favorite cigarette advertisement. The proportion of boys who reported having a favorite ad remained stable across five surveys. However, after the launch of the Camel No. 9 ad campaign, which depicts fashion icons and girlish colors, the percentage of teen girls who reported having a favorite cigarette ad increased by 10% -- with Camel accounting for almost all of that increase.
Laws prevent tobacco companies from targeting teens through advertising such as the famous Joe Camel advertisements that were known to most 5-year-olds at one time. But it's clear that the industry is finding a way to generate replacement smokers for the thousands of smokers dying every day.
Legacy has smoking cessation information available on its website.
-- Shari Roan
Photo: A Camel No. 9 advertisement. Credit: UC San Diego; American Legacy Foundation