Women and Cigarettes

SMOKING used to be identified with the inner sanctum of men's private clubs and pool halls - that is, until women began to smoke in large numbers in the '30s. Today, American women smoke 30 percent of the 600 billion cigarettes produced. And for the very first time, women are getting lung cancer as frequently as men. Strangely, the women's movement is silent on the subject.

Open any women's magazines and the ads for ``ladies' cigarettes'' jump out at you. Fetching gals sport slim cigarettes as if they were waving magic wands that guarantee endless bliss.

Ms. magazine, long the standard-bearer of feminist-oriented publications, willingly runs these ads. The fact that its editor, Gloria Steinem, is a smoker may have something to do with it. So may Ms.'s ad revenues from tobacco companies. Articles on smoking and women don't appear.

A casual look at the cigarette ads in women's magazines reveals that young, impressionable women are targeted. The ads suggest that cigarettes impart charm, elegance, and sexiness.

The Centers for Disease Control claims that the fastest growing market among women who turn to smoking is for those in the prime of their child-bearing years. In a recent study, the CDC also found that 20 percent of high-school senior girls smoke regularly, despite government antismoking campaigns at high schools. In one CDC survey, 41 percent of white women between the ages of 18 and 24 smoked.

Cigarette advertisers throw around $2.5 billion yearly, compared with the federal government's few million to educate the public about smoking's perils.

Rep. Thomas Luken (D) of Ohio, believes it's time to call a halt to deceptive cigarette advertising - the great majority of it.

He's sponsoring a bill (HR 1250) designed to eliminate all the pretty people from cigarette ads whether the ads run in magazines, on billboards, at point-of-purchase, or in newspapers.

Ben Cohen, senior counsel for the House Subcommittee on Transportation and Hazardous Materials, which Congressman Luken chairs, says the Federal Trade Commission has been lenient on cigarette advertisers far too long: ``The FTC grants no right to advertise cigarettes in a deceptive fashion, which the great majority of these ads do.'' Mr. Cohen says smoking-related illnesses cost the health-care system $22 billion in 1985. Taxpayers forked over $4.2 billion in unreimbursed costs. Another $43 billion was racked up in lost productivity due to cigarettes, all in just one year.

If ``you've come a long way, baby'' means women have the right to die from smoking-related illnesses as often as men, maybe it's a pseudo equality. How fun-loving and marvelous would the pretty women in the pretty cigarette ads look if they knew, with the certitude of the US surgeon general, that they were enticing young women to die of lung cancer 30 years down the road?

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