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Seductive cigarettes?

By
October 18, 2007

The newest cigarette made specifically for women comes wrapped in a shiny black package with borders in shades of pink and teal.

If the packaging alone doesn’t grab the attention of the fashion-conscious female, then perhaps the cigarette’s advertising campaign will.

In one magazine ad, the sleek boxes of smokes are framed by long-stemmed roses. “Light & luscious,” the text promises invitingly.

Another ad prominently showcases a sophisticated evening gown, along with stiletto heels, a stylish handbag and other fashion accessories. The text suggests that women “inspire your inner style maven” and helpfully provides a Web site where they can find vintage clothing stores in their area. The address: camelsmokes.com.

“It’s a very seductive form of advertising,” said Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif. It’s also flagrantly irresponsible, she said.

Capps has been leading a campaign in Congress to persuade magazines to reject advertising for the cigarette, Camel No. 9.

RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co., eager to capture a bigger share of the market of women smokers, rolled out the new cigarette in February with a campaign that included large ads in glossy publications that cater to women who care about fashion and glamour.

But Capps and others don’t buy RJ Reynolds’ claims that it is simply trying to win over women who already are smoking another brand. They believe the cigarette maker is deliberately trying to get young women and teenage girls to take up smoking.

“This is not about getting 40-year-old women to switch (brands),” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an anti-smoking group. “This is about a company that is trying desperately and blatantly to grab a larger share of the youth market.”

By accepting ads for the new cigarette, women’s magazines are complicit in the tobacco company’s effort to create new smokers, Capps said.

The ads are irresponsible because they are promoting a product that is proven to cause cancer and other diseases, Capps said. But what makes them even more reprehensible, she said, is that they are appearing in magazines that are read by impressionable young women and girls.

“This is not like running ads for toothpaste or any other kind of product,” Capps said. “This is a health threat.”

In June, Capps sent a letter to the publishers of 11 leading women’s magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Elle, InStyle, Glamour and Vogue, asking them to voluntarily stop accepting advertising for Camel No. 9. The letter was signed by 40 other members of Congress.

When the magazines failed to respond, Capps and her colleagues fired off another letter to them in August. This time, seven wrote back. None promised to drop the ads. Several defended their decision to run the ads by pointing out that they have published articles about the health effects of smoking.

In his response, Vogue publishing director Thomas Florio said that Congress should focus on setting guidelines for the marketing, distribution and sale of tobacco products rather than trying to “bring pressure” on a magazine to “forgo its legal right to conduct business.”

Legislation is pending that would give the Food and Drug Administration greater regulatory authority over tobacco products.

If approved, the legislation would not only allow the FDA to regulate tobacco as a drug, it would specifically bar the kind of advertising that has been used to promote Camel No. 9, Myers said.

RJ Reynolds spokesman Craig Fischel said critics who accuse the company of trying to push the new cigarette on teenagers and young women are mistaken.

“We manufacture and market for adults who have made the decision to smoke,” Fischel said, adding that demographics show that the magazines in which the company has advertised Camel No. 9 are read primarily by adults.

(Reach Michael Collins at collinsm(at)shns.com.)