This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, the public announcement that definitively implicated cigarettes in lung cancer and heart disease.
Yet it would still be another four years before Phillip Morris launched Virginia Slims, the first brand marketed specifically to women and the last tobacco campaign to air on television: a one-minute genealogy of women smokers “from Flapper to Female Lib,” in the campaign’s signature style. The trappings of late-60's and 70's female counter-culture were Virginia Slims’ primary rhetorical currency.
“Back then, education taught men to run the world and women to run the house,” says a banner of text crowning one 1975 Virginia Slims glossy ad. A waify woman in a shimmering sea-green jumpsuit traipses across this double-paneled ad, a cigarette dipping from her fingers. She’s laughing, fancy-free, answering to no one but herself. In the background, her 19th-century finishing-school foils sport tightly bound buns and cotton pinafores, visibly bored by classwork that includes egg beating and flour sifting.
Virginia Slims was by far the most successful female-targeted tobacco brand in history, but it wasn’t the only one that used popular women’s liberation rhetoric to sell products.
Eve, introduced in 1970, boasted floral-printed tipping papers and soft packs, and prompted women to identify with a radical Eve-out-of-Eden. A bedroom-eyed woman wearing a paisley halter dress sits cross-legged on the floor, clutching a cigarette: “There’s a little Eve in every woman.” More’s ads used a subtle (or not so) female sexual pleasure campaign, though their leggy models dressed professionally, like a VS gal after her first promotion or on a solo vacation: "'I'm More Satisfied'", “‘What’s the Point of a Cigarette Like That?’ ‘Pure Pleasure.’” DAWN 120s, meanwhile, targeted a rugged woman’s-woman, donned in flannel, winning rodeos, catching trout: “Taste the Triumph.”