Women and smoking

The cigarette industry began a strong marketing campaign geared toward women beginning in the 1920s. These campaigns became more aggressive as time has progressed and marketing in general became more prominent. The practice of marketing aimed exclusively at women has continued into the present day and has now expanded globally.

In 1911, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act divided the American Tobacco Trust into several different companies, making market share critical to each company’s survival. The resulting competition spurred innovations in both product and marketing, and eventually progressed to the idea of brands. By 1915, Reynolds’ Camel had become the first truly national brand. Soon to follow were Liggett & Myers’ Chesterfield and the American Tobacco Company’s Lucky Strike. These brands were modern and appealed to the modern sensibilities that were taking over the people of the United States at the time.

In the early part of the 20th Century the anti-tobacco movement was aimed primarily at women and children. Smoking was considered a dirty habit and was smoking by women was seriously frowned upon by society. As the century progressed so did women’s desire for equality. The suffrage movement gave many women a sense of entitlement and freedom and the tobacco industry took advantage of the marketing opportunity. Tobacco companies began marketing cigarettes to appeal to women during the burgeoning women’s movement of the 1920s. The American Tobacco Company began targeting women with its ads for Lucky Strikes. Lucky Strike sought to give women the reasons they should be smoking Luckies. They employed ads featuring prominent women, such as Amelia Earhart, and appealed to the vanity of women by promising slimming effects. Most of the ads also conveyed a carefree and confident image of women that would appeal to the modern woman of the 1920s. The ads grew more extravagant with paid celebrity testimonials and far reaching claims of how Lucky Strikes could improve your life. Their most aggressive campaign directly challenged the candy industry by urging women to “reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” These aggressive campaigns paid off making Lucky Strike the most smoked brand within a decade.

Other companies followed the successful ad campaigns of the American Tobacco Company with their own versions. The Phillip Morris Company introduced Marlboro cigarettes in 1925. Marlboro's were advertised as being as "mild as May" and featured elegant ivory tips that appealed to women. Other brands offered similar ads appealing to a woman’s sense of beauty and style and made cigarettes an alluring part of many women’s lives. The ads linking vanity and beauty were quite women specific and did exactly what they were supposed to do. Fear of weight gain remains a chief reason women continue to smoke. The ad campaigns successfully promoted cigarettes as a product possessing specific qualities including equality, autonomy, glamour, and beauty.

The late 1950s and early 1960s brought about a new onslaught of cigarette brands. Each new brand of cigarette introduced during this time advertised its unique benefits. The major new innovation in tobacco marketing was the filtered cigarette. Filters made cigarettes less harsh to smoke and offered the appearance of removing potentially harmful particles. The 1950s began the rebranding of Marlboros from an elite cigarette to an everyman’s cigarette and also saw the introduction of strong Marlboro men, such as athletes, and more famously cowboys. This change in Marlboro branding meant Philip Morris was lacking a cigarette aimed at women.

The 1950s also began a boom in advertising for tobacco companies. Ads featuring prominent movie and television stars became commonplace and tobacco companies also began sponsoring television shows, game shows, and other widespread media. One of the most popular was Philip Morris's sponsorship of the I Love Lucy show. The opener featured the two stars of the show with a giant pack of Philip Morris cigarettes. The show Your Hit Parade was proudly sponsored by American Tobacco's Lucky Strike brand.

In 1965, it was reported that 33.9% of women were smoking. Virginia Slims came on the market in 1968, and used the catch phrase “You’ve come a long way baby.” This was the first cigarette to be marketed solely as a woman’s cigarette. The cigarettes were longer, slimmer, and overall more elegant and feminine. The ads depicted photos of glamorous women set against photos of women doing mundane tasks such as laundry or housework. 1970 saw the release of Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company's entry into women specific cigarettes, Eve. Eve cigarettes were decidedly more feminine than Virginia Slims. Eve featured flowers or other feminine motifs on both the packaging and the cigarette themselves.

The 1970s ushered in the end of television advertising and the beginning of print ads carrying health warnings regarding the dangers of smoking. The 1970s also brought nearly annual reports from the Surgeon General’s office regarding the health consequences of smoking. In 1970, a reported 31.5% of women were smokers. Tobacco companies were barred from advertising on television, but smartly moved the market focus to sponsoring sporting and entertainment events. In 1973, a widely publicized tennis match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes” featured Billie Jean King, a long-time spokesperson for Virginia Slims, bedecked in the brand’s sequins and colors. American was tennis wild in the 1970s and Billie Jean King was a superstar. Virginia Slims sponsored the Women’s Tennis Association Tour for close to twenty years. The 1970s ended with filtered cigarettes almost completely overtaking the market.
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