For years, tobacco companies have carried out extensive research to find ways to get females to smoke, according to a new study released this week by Harvard University's School of Public Health.
Analysis of the more than 7 million internal documents from the tobacco industry, dating from 1969 up to 2000, provides substantial evidence that cigarette makers intentionally modified their products to appeal to women, including putting an emphasis on "sleek" and "slim" designs, creating a better taste, and even looking into ways to add perceived health benefits, such as weight loss.
"These internal documents reveal that the tobacco companies' targeting of women goes far beyond marketing and adverting. They did so much research in such a sophisticated way, and women should know how far the industry went to exploit them," the study's lead author, Carrie Murray Carpenter, told The Associated Press. The documents, first made public following the 1998 Tobacco Maker Settlement Agreement, are examined further in the report published in the June issue of Addiction, an international scientific journal.
The documents also reveal that, beginning in the '70s, tobacco companies conducted internal research to identify several psychological and behavioral factors that contribute to a female's specific motivation for lighting up, including a major effort to identify gender-based differences in smoking patterns, and product preferences in order to promote smoking among young women and girls.
"[The study] reveals that cigarette designs and ingredients were manipulated to make cigarettes more palatable to women and to complement advertised illusions of smooth, healthy, weight-controlling, stress-reducing smoke," according to an accompanying editorial in Addiction by Dr. Jack E. Henningfield from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine.
One quote from a 1987 internal Philip Morris report described the rationale behind designing a longer, slimmer cigarette and creating the illusion of a "healthier product": "Most smokers have little notion of their brand's tar and nicotine levels. Perception is more important than reality, and in this case, the perception is of reduced tobacco consumption."
One of the most disturbing findings in the documents is that cigarette companies even went so far as to explore the use of appetite suppressants in cigarettes to promote smoking-mediated weight control, according to the researchers.
The study also presents troubling implications for world health, according to the study's authors, as more cigarette companies are targeting new women smokers in developing countries. While male smoking rates are on the decline internationally, female smoking rates are expected to increase and reach 20 percent by 2025. Henningfield says the revelations from the new study should be viewed as a "call to action" for those in the tobacco-control community.
"Now that we know tobacco companies designed cigarettes to addict women, we need to look at prevention and cessation strategies to counter these efforts," he said. "Our most pressing priority should be to examine how [these] findings can be used to counter the rising tide of smoking in women, [especially] in developing countries, so that we don't see an increase in smoking-related deaths that we've already seen in the developing world."