Poisonous in Pink

By Lois Capps
Friday, October 12, 2007

There's a disturbing hot item being pushed this fall by a number of leading women's fashion magazines. As a mother, grandmother and former school nurse, I'm sorry to say that this "must-have" is Camel No. 9 cigarettes, cynically brought to our girls and young women by the folks at R.J. Reynolds, the tobacco company that thought cartoon character Joe Camel was a responsible product spokesman.

Camel No. 9 cigarettes are the pink version of Joe Camel, or, as one Oregon newspaper put it, "Barbie Camel." And R.J. Reynolds's marketing strategy is abetted with giveaways to fashion-conscious young women that include berry lip balm and hot pink cellphone jewelry, mini-purses and wristbands. The tagline for Camel No. 9 is "light and luscious"; how better to sell a cancer-causing cigarette than to make it sound like a tasty treat? There's even a Camel No. 9 "stiletto" line, meant to evoke images of the sexy shoes.

Someone should remind R.J. Reynolds that there's nothing sexy about emphysema or dying prematurely from cancer. No amount of pretty pink packaging can obscure the fact that lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer among American women -- a truth that underscores tobacco companies' desperate search for new smokers.

While we have come to expect this kind of sleazy marketing from tobacco companies, a big disappointment is that they've found an ally in women's fashion magazines. That's right, America's most popular magazines for women, which set trends for the country and have historically served as respected sources for articles on women's health and fitness, have sold out the well-being of their readers to help Big Tobacco in its search for new victims.

In June, 40 of my congressional colleagues joined me in writing to the publishers of 11 leading women's magazines: Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, InStyle, Interview Magazine, Lucky, Marie Claire, Soap Opera Digest, Us Weekly, Vogue and W. We asked them to stop accepting misleading advertisements for deadly cigarettes, particularly for Camel No. 9. Not one of the magazines bothered to formally respond. We wrote again on Aug. 1. Seven of the 11 magazines responded, but none has committed to dropping the ads.

Several of the magazines asserted that they can report and editorialize on the dangers of smoking while simultaneously accepting advertisements for the very product they pretend to decry. One complained that we were using "coercion" to prevent it from doing business and even questioned our patriotism for questioning its blind pursuit of profits.

It would be nice to think that the four that never responded -- Interview Magazine, Marie Claire, Soap Opera Digest and Us Weekly -- have been shamed into silence over their acceptance of ads that promote to young women a deadly, and entirely preventable, addiction. But the truth is all of these publications seem to care more about their bottom lines than the health of their readers, young and old.

One need look no further than the Camel No. 9 "ad" in the October edition of Glamour. The "Dressed to the 9s" piece encourages "fashion forward" women to embrace a vintage look, offering tips on how to take the look and "make it yours" to be in the "vintage vanguard." This so-called ad closely resembles the magazine's regular editorial content on the latest fashions. The ad helpfully recommends starting a vintage makeover with a little black dress, but it neglects to mention the black lungs and yellowed teeth readers will have after a lifetime of smoking.

Considering the Camel No. 9 advertising blitz that greeted our students at the start of the school year, I shudder to think of what treats R.J. Reynolds and its friends in publishing have planned for America's young women this Halloween.

These magazines need to drop these ads. Some publications -- such as Self magazine -- have done so. The health of readers, America's young women and girls, should be more important than the revenue derived from abetting the tobacco industry.

The writer, a Democrat, represents California's 23rd District in the House of Representatives.

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