Since the 1920s, the tobacco industry has been making specific and calculated attempts to convince women that tobacco products are right for them. Unfortunately, 100 years later, they’re still committed to their efforts. Their current PR opportunity: International Women’s Day.
On March 8, while the world celebrates the achievements of women around the globe, Philip Morris International (PMI) is again attempting to align itself with women’s empowerment.
It appears that its strategy this year is to highlight women who work at PMI.
But in 2020, we know better. We know that the tobacco industry has aggressively targeted and marketed to women and girls, and to devastating effect. We all should be aware of the industry’s historical and current marketing tactics that exploit “women’s issues”:
- Weight control: Tobacco companies marketed cigarettes as appetite suppressants beginning in the 1920s—an idea that the industry capitalizes on to this day. As recently as 2011, several companies introduced new “slim” cigarette brands around the world.
- Beauty and fashion: Advertisements consistently portray female smokers as youthful, beautiful, glamorous and on-trend. The industry also attempts to appeal to women with feminine designs on packaging. In a 1992 document, PMI stated, “…we sense that women are a primary target for our innovative packaging task, and that more fashionable feminine packaging can enhance the relevance of some of our brands.”
- Empowerment: Once going as far as to brand cigarettes “torches of freedom” for women, the industry continues to capitalize on women’s desire for empowerment and independence. In the U.S. in the 1960s, messaging, like “It’s a woman thing,” was crafted to appeal to those in the women’s movement. We see the concept persisting today in Asia, where advertisements feature prominent themes of independence.
Women have paid the price. In 2010, the World Health Organization reported that in industrialized countries, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is now almost as high in women as it is in men. Further, WHO showed that in the U.S., lung cancer mortality in women has increased 800% since 1950, and eclipsed breast cancer in 1987 as the leading cause of cancer death among women. Women who smoke have a higher risk of coronary heart disease, increased even more in women using oral contraceptives. The list of known health risks goes on and continues to grow.
Even with their new heated tobacco product, IQOS, PMI continues its attempts to lure women. A recent Stanford report shows that IQOS has partnered with fashion companies and sponsored cosmetic trade shows. Official IQOS Instagram pages for Italy, Japan and Colombia also have overtly feminine-themed posts, showing IQOS products alongside lipstick, shoes and other accessories.
Let’s see PMI’s latest PR attempt for what it is: a marketing strategy aimed at normalizing tobacco among women and getting and keeping women addicted to its products.
To learn more about other ways in which PMI’s actions don’t match its rhetoric, read Addiction at Any Cost: Philip Morris International Uncovered.