Tobacco companies did extensive studies of gender differences in smoking so they could design products with special appeal to women, such as lemon-flavored and vanilla-scented cigarettes, a new study has found. Marshmallow, coconut and chocolate flavors were also used.
Their studies informed the tobacco industry that women were more likely to be concerned about their health, so cigarette companies appealed to them by offering brands low in tar and nicotine - even though experts say there is no evidence these brands are less harmful.
"Perception is more important than reality, and in this case the perception is of reduced tobacco consumption," stated one Philip Morris document quoted in the article. The same document said, "Most smokers have little real notion of their own brand's tar and nicotine numbers."
Other internal industry studies examined differences between the sexes, including how often and how deeply women and men puffed on cigarettes, how many cigarettes they smoked a day, even their tar retention and deposits in the lung.
The tobacco industry also studied the psychological differences between men and women, learning that women were more likely to smoke to relieve a low mood or stress.
Some tobacco companies explored the possibility of incorporating appetite suppressants into cigarettes, since women reported being more concerned about controlling their weight.
The article based on the documents, in this week's issue of the journal Addiction, was written by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health with funding from the National Cancer Institute.
"This goes beyond marketing to actually chemically changing these products so as to exploit women's vulnerabilities to get them addicted to a product that kills 178,000 American women each year," said lead author Carrie Murray Carpenter, a research analyst at the Harvard School of Public Health's Tobacco Control Research and Training Program.
The research was done through a Web-based search of more than 7 million internal tobacco industry documents made public through the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement between state attorneys general and major U.S. tobacco manufacturers.
The companies included Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco and Lorillard; the documents spanned 1969-2000.
While male smoking rates are declining throughout the world, female smoking rates are expected to continue to rise and reach 20 percent by 2025, in large part because of increased smoking in the developing world, experts say. The growth represents a huge potential market for the tobacco industry.
Jack Henningfield, a researcher with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who co-wrote an editorial that accompanied the Harvard study, said the research the tobacco industry conducted on women "crossed the line."
"This is much more than changing the colors on the cigarette packet to appeal to women," he said.
Women do not draw as hard on a cigarette, for example, but cigarette manufacturers can adjust the pressure through their design of the filter, he said.
"When you design a cigarette to make it easier to inhale deeply, you're virtually guaranteeing more smoke will be inhaled more deeply into the lung," causing more damage, he said, although he added, "We still don't know for each brand exactly what they did."
Representatives of the tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds and Brown & Williamson did not respond to inquiries about the study.
Ron Milstein, a vice president for Lorillard Tobacco Co., said he had not read the study and declined to comment.
A spokesman for Philip Morris said the company could not comment because so many documents were involved and officials were unable to review all of them in a timely manner.
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