Collection: Let's Smoke Girls
Before the First World War, smoking was associated with the “loose morals” of prostitutes and wayward women. Clever marketers managed to turn this around in the 1920s and 1930s, latching onto women’s liberation movements and transforming cigarettes into symbols of women’s independence. In 1929, as part of this effort, the American Tobacco Company organized marches of women carrying “Torches of Freedom” (i.e., cigarettes) down New York’s 5th Avenue to emphasize their emancipation. The tobacco industry also sponsored training sessions to teach women how to smoke, and competitions for most delicate smoker. Many of the advertisements targeting women throughout the decades have concentrated on women’s empowerment. Early examples include “I wish I were a man” so I could smoke (Velvet, 1912), while later examples like “You’ve come a long way baby” (Virginia Slims) were more clearly exploitive of the Women’s Liberation Movement. It is interesting to note that the Marlboro brand, famous for its macho “Marlboro Man,” was for decades a woman’s cigarette (“Mild as May” with “Ivory tips to protect the lips”) before it underwent an abrupt sex change in 1954. Only 5 percent of American women smoked in 1923 versus 12 percent in 1932 and 33 percent in 1965 (the peak year). Lung cancer was still a rare disease for women in the 1950s, though by the year 2000 it was killing nearly 70,000 women per year. Cancer of the lung surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death among women in 1987.