Pink cigarette ads target teenage girls

Camel No. 9by Dafna Lemish, PhD

The “pinkification” of girls’ culture – their clothes, toys and accessories – is a booming and relatively recent marketing strategy, marking girls as “cute” and thus very different than boys, who are “tough.” Walk into any clothing or toy store or go online and try to buy something for your daughter that’s not pink. Check your favorite online shopping sites.

But pink has recently shown up in a more insidious and dangerous place: cigarette packaging. The “pink campaign” by Camel cigarettes was introduced in 2007 to appeal directly to pre-teen girls by exploiting a color associated with this age and gender group.

Associating cigarettes with pink conveys a very clear message: cigarettes too are part of what it means to be a girl –cute, cool and fashionable. Clearly, much of the tobacco advertising targets the psychological needs of adolescents for popularity, peer acceptance and positive self-image. It makes them feel that smoking is an easy way to fulfill these needs by creating positive associations between smoking and feeling good. This is how advertising works: it sells an emotional state of being, not just a product.

There’s nothing new about advertising using the most popular cultural ideas of their time in order to sell products to their target audiences. Take for example the famous Virginia Slim cigarettes ad campaign – “You’ve come a long way baby” – which has become a case study in advertising to women.

The campaign followed the women’s movement of the 1960s and targeted young professional women who were joining the workplace in hope of gender equity. It recruited the feminist sentiment of the time, but instead of gaining freedom, emancipation and empowerment, young women gained cigarette addiction and health hazards.

Cigarette smoking has been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of six critical types of health risk behaviors engaged in by adolescents (physical inactivity, poor eating habits, alcohol use, sexual behaviors and violence are the others). Yet tobacco manufacturers spend billions of dollars a year on advertising and promotions that target young people.

Research has demonstrated that tobacco advertising may be an even bigger risk factor for teens starting to smoke than having family members and friends who smoke. Parents may be serving as a great role-model for their teenagers, but still teens may take up smoking, leaving moms and dads wondering – what have I done wrong?

Camel freebiesWell, studies that followed youth over time found clear evidence that approximately one-third of all adolescent smoking can be attributed to tobacco advertising promotions and many studies have found that children exposed to cigarette ads or promotions are more likely to become smokers themselves. Furthermore, watching smoking behaviors portrayed in the movies was found to be related to youth smoking initiation. This is extremely important information, as cigarette smoking has been found to occur in about three-quarters of recent box-office hits and identifiable brands appear in about one-third of movies. Parents may be preaching against smoking, but the culture kids are surrounded by is constantly tempting them to start.

A research article just published in the journal Pediatrics provided additional support for the implications advertising campaigns have in encouraging smoking among adolescents, and provided support that special targeting techniques – such as  “pink” campaigns – are very effective in attracting the young girl audience.

“How girly, cute and cool are the health hazards of smoking?” is the relevant question we need to ask ourselves and our children as we teach them to be critical consumers of media and responsible people.

You can learn more about media and children’s health and ask Children’s Mediatrician your own questions.

Read about how the FDA is restricting tobacco marketing to youth.