How tobacco companies have used women’s history and equality struggles to sell cigarettes
“You’ve come a long way, baby.”
That Virginia Slims cigarette slogan debuted in 1968 and spread across ads featuring modern, stylish women juxtaposed with old, black-and-white photos of women doing things like hiding a smoke from their husband. Other ads sported the slogan below an image of a woman’s face on a presidential campaign button or on Mount Rushmore.
These ads are one example of a major tobacco industry strategy to target women: linking smoking to “women's freedom, emancipation, and empowerment,” as the 2001 U.S. Surgeon General’s report on women and smoking put it.
The tobacco industry began to tap into women’s liberation by riding on the “skirttails” of the women’s suffrage movement. In 1929, the American Tobacco Company organized a group of women to march (reminiscent of suffrage marches) holding cigarettes down Fifth Avenue in New York City for the Easter parade. The cigarettes were referred to as “torches of freedom,” to help transform the public’s perception of smoking as a social taboo for women.
Since then, there have been many examples of tobacco marketing carrying “torches of freedom” in themes of women’s empowerment and liberation. Here, we rounded up 10 examples from the early to late 20th century.
Images courtesy of Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising and Trinkets & Trash.