Big Tobacco and Women: A Codependent Relationship
International Women’s Day is this week, so I have to sound off about something that has been driving me nuts. As a vape blogger and the social media director at Vapor4Life, I do a lot of research on big tobacco, and I’m not happy with how they’ve treated women over the years. And by “treated” I mean “manipulated.” Every year, 200,000 women die from smoking related illnesses in the U.S. alone. “You’ve come a long way,” big tobacco. Manipulation, exploitation, sexism, anti-gay rhetoric. These are the dirty tools tobacco companies have pulled out of their arsenal to keep women smoking. It’s been deliberate, and I’m not falling for it anymore. It’s been going on for 80 years, ladies.
How It All Began: Lucky Strike and the Freedom Torches
Back in the day (before World War II) it was considered unacceptable for women to smoke in public. Women who smoked were thought of as undesirables.That’s complete sexist crap, so big tobacco, being the thoughtful, considerate force that they are, decided that needed to change… for the sake of women, you guys. It was for the sake of womankind that Lucky Strike hired advertising expert Edward Bernays to help them increase their cigarette sales. Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, and he knew how to get into someone’s psyche with manipulative marketing. The 1929 Easter Parade was the perfect opportunity for Bernays to pull off his plan.
How do we get already women to smoke more? Tell them it’s a source of empowerment. Tobacco companies paid hundreds of women to light up cigarettes as they marched in the parade. The women were led to see the act as the lighting of “freedom torches” to show their independence. The woman leading the “charge?” Edward Bernays’s secretary. Then, the media jumped on the story, with The New York Times calling it a “gesture of freedom” in their headline. The rest, is undoubtedly HIStory, as more and more women started feeling “free” to be tethered to cigarettes for life.
It Doesn’t Stop There: Sexist Ad Campaigns
When I started my research, the first thing I came across was a Lucky Strike ad that played on body shaming by that women “keep a slender figure” by reaching for “a Lucky instead of a sweet.” Yum. As I dug deeper, I was disgusted by all the sexist cigarette ads I came across that dated from the 1930s to the 1980s. 50 years. Sexism sells.
- “Blow in her face and she’ll follow you anywhere.” (Tipalet)
- “Before you scold me, mom, maybe you better light up a Marlboro.” (Marlboro)
- “Cigarettes are like women. The best ones are thin and rich.” (Silva Thins)
- “Slim ‘n sassy” (Misty, accompanied by a pic of a “slim ‘n sassy” woman)
- “Believe in Yourself” (Philip Morris)
- “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” (Virginia Slims)
The Grand Design: How Big Tobacco Changed Their Branding to Draw in Women
Truth.org lists some of the nasty truths behind the growth of the tobacco industry. After the mastermind manipulation Bernays pulled off, tobacco execs knew they had women hooked. So, they kept targeting that demographic, sometimes in the most disturbing ways.
- In 1971, Philip Morris CEO Joseph Cullman says, “some women would prefer having smaller babies,” when asked about the risks of pregnant women smoking. Watch the video; it’s pretty twisted.
- 1973 found Lorillard “harnessing the social forces for the cigarette market,” with a focus on women’s liberation supporters, or as they called them “bra-burning extremists” who are “violently opposed to the placid cows of their own sex.” Placid cows, huh?
- The 1973 Lorillard document also analyzed “blatant lesbians” who believe “they are superior in the more cultural areas without the distractions of animal lust.” Are you telling me lesbians don’t also experience lust?
- In 1991, big tobacco sought to further stereotype and manipulate “weak” women by profiling the type of gal who “lacks control over her life,” or is “mainly negative about the future.”
Breaking the Chains: Declaring Independence from Big Tobacco
Big tobacco has tried every trick in the book to convince women to get addicted to cigarettes: playing on emotions, backhanded body shaming, launching a massive fashion campaign, and even a fancy schmancy green ball to match the hues on Lucky Strike packs. And so far, they’ve succeeded. more than 50,000 American women die from lung cancer alone each year. It all started with the cigarettes Bernays passed off as “torches of freedom.” There’s no freedom in being subject to advertising ploys, or staying hooked cigarettes. For International Women’s Day 2016, I suggest we break those chains and show big tobacco who’s really in charge of our lives.