Sally stumbles out of senior prom and rifles through her clutch for her cigarettes. She clumsily grasps past her disposable camera and lip-gloss and finds her Camel No.9’s buried near the bottom. She opens the sleek black box and smirks at the punchy pink camel. “These totally match my nails!” she thinks to herself as she peels back the hot pink and shimmering foil. She lights up and immediately coughs.
Although Joe Camel disappeared in the late 1990s, the tobacco industry continues to target teenage boys and girls- especially girls.
Enter Camel No. 9s. With a name reminiscent of Chanel No. 19 perfume, the cigarette conjures images of glamour and class. From the sleek black box to the neon pink and teal accents, Camel No. 9s appeal to teenage girls as somewhat of an accessory.
I was first introduced to Camel No. 9s in high school when my friend Julie started smoking them outside of the punk shows. I would watch her as she lit up with an air of faux-sophistication. Not a day over 16, she blew her smoke to the side like a seasoned pro. The pink of her cigarettes matched the pink of her shoes and the pink of her lungs.
Camel No. 9 ads feature flowers and fluttery copy. The tag line ‘Light and Luscious” implies that these are cigarettes for delicate young ladies. These aren’t your papa’s Parliaments or your mama’s Marlboros. These are the cigarettes for the young glamour girl on the go.
Pediatrics conducted a study on teen smoking from 2003 to 2008 and found a spike in ad preferences in the year of Camel No. 9s release. After Camel No. 9 ads ran in popular magazines, 10 percent of teenage girls reported the ads as a favorite. The next year, 22 percent of teenage girls cited this ad as a favorite.
Marketers appeal to the way teenage girls want to feel about themselves. They want to appeal chic. They want to feel mature. What better way to give them what they want than a designer cigarette? With Camel No. 9s, Sally can match her tobacco habit with her little black dress.
It’s no secret that women and cigarettes have a history. Oddly enough, public relations frontiersman Edward Bernays had quite the hand in this.
In 1929, Bernays coerced a group of Suffragettes to light up during New Yorks Easter parade. “Torches of Freedom” wafted from the tips of their cigarettes and onto the headlines.
I began thinking about cigarettes and advertising a few weeks ago while watching Mad Men. Mad Men follows an ad agency in the 1960s.
Watch Mad Men for 30 seconds and you’ll inevitably see both men and women seductively smoking. Smoking was such an integral part of the period and plot that AMC’s Web site even has a section devoted to lung cancer awareness.
Cigarettes became power symbols. Smoking asserted independence in a time where women were just beginning to be heard. Smoking went from taboo to trendy seemingly overnight.
By the time Virginia Slims entered the scene in 1968, women had been enjoying cigarettes for years. “You’ve come a long way, baby” seemed to speak to women on social level. Women weren’t just smoking a cigarette; they were asserting independence in a changing society.
The truth is more women die of lung cancer than breast cancer. Should tobacco companies widen this margin early on, hooking teenage girls in the name of market shares?
Maybe Camel No. 9s offer a new generation of young women to assert independence in a still rapidly changing society. Maybe these torches of freedom now mean the freedom to match black dresses with black lungs. In a completely glamorous way, of course.