The Oral Cancer Foundation recently called for the U.S. Senate to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products in response to the tobacco industry’s most aggressive marketing campaign targeted at women and girls in over a decade. The U.S. House of Representatives voted to give the FDA such authority approximately two weeks ago.  “The percentage of oral cancer patients represented by women has increased tremendously over the past four decades, and we believe the marketing efforts of the tobacco industry is a major causal factor,” said Brian Hill, founder of the Oral Cancer Foundation. “Before Virginia Slims began aggressively targeting women in the 1960s, roughly one-in-ten oral cancer victims was female. Since then, the ratio has quintupled to one-in-two.” Hill also noted that lung cancer surpassed breast cancer as the number one cancer killer of women in 1987, and that while overall cancer rates are declining for men and women, lung cancer is not declining among women. Moreover, smoking puts women and girls at greater risk of a wide range of other deadly diseases, including heart attacks, strokes and emphysema.  Hill cited “Deadly in Pink: Big Tobacco Steps Up Its Targeting of Women and Girls.”  As the report documents, the nation’s two largest tobacco companies — Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds — have recently deployed new marketing campaigns that romance cigarette smoking as feminine and fashionable. In late 2008, Philip Morris USA repackaged its Virginia Slims brand into “purse packs” — small, rectangular cigarette packs that contain “superslim” cigarettes. Available in mauve and teal and half the size of regular cigarette packs, the sleek “purse packs” emulate cosmetics containers and are clearly designed to fit in small purses. Their “Superslims Lights” and “Superslims Ultra Lights” nomenclature is consistent with the tobacco industry’s history of associating smoking with weight control and of appealing to women’s health concerns with misleading claims such as “light” and “low-tar.”  In 2007, R.J. Reynolds launched a new version of its Camel cigarettes, packaged in shiny black boxes with hot pink and teal borders. The product is named Camel No. 9, which evokes the famous Chanel No. 9 perfume, and is supported by magazine advertising featuring flowery imagery and vintage fashions. The ads incorporated slogans such as “Light and luscious” and “Now available in stiletto,” the latter referring to a thin version of the cigarette pitched to “the most fashion forward woman.” Ads ran in magazines popular with women and girls, including Vogue, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and InStyle. Promotional giveaways included flavored lip balm, cell phone jewelry, tiny purses and wristbands, all in hot pink.

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