Torch of Freedom or Torch of Disease and Death? How the Tobacco Industry exploited Womens Rights


Glamour cigarettes
Japan Tobacco International cigarette brand, “Glamour.”

Kiss cigarettes

women and cigarettes 5       women and cigarettes 3


Torch of Freedom or Torch of Disease and Death?

What have women’s rights go to do with smoking? In the early 20th century women smokers were rare. The tobacco industry’s executives and “brainstormers” figured a way of getting women to smoke. At that time, women’s rights movements were taking off, and the tobacco executives started a campaign, called the “Torch of Freedom” to associate smoking with women’s rights, implying that women have as much a right to smoke as men.

This was, obviously, a business ploy and had nothing at all to do with tobacco industry’s concern for women’s rights. Unfortunately the tobacco companies’ campaign was a success. They paid women money to march with women’s rights campaigners and “sell” cigarettes to women.

Within 20 years of starting to target women, over half the young women (16–35 years) in Britain, for example, had become smokers.”

I recommend the following article in the British Medical Journal. The above excerpt is taken from this pdf article:

As more women smoked, we saw the serious health effects on women of smoking. Women are more prone to emphysema, and possibly lung cancer, than men and over the years the lung cancer epidemic in women has worsened, and pretty much caught up with, that of men in countries where women smokers are common.

According to the following blog post:

In 1929 an Easter parade included womens’ rights campaigners promoting cigarettes to women, supported by the tobacco industry.

“As described in Larry Tye’s biography of Mr. Bernays, “The Father of Spin,” the media ate it up:

Ten young women turned out, marching down Fifth Avenue with their lighted “torches of freedom,” and the newspapers loved it. Two-column pictures showed elegant ladies, with floppy hats and fur-trimmed coats, cigarettes held self-consciously by their sides, as they paraded down the wide boulevard. Dispatches ran the next day, on page one, in papers from Fremont, Nebraska, to Portland, Oregon, to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Times on the Easter Parade the next day, with a headline saying in part, “Group of Girls Puff at Cigarettes as a Gesture of ‘Freedom’”

“Philip Morris even went so far as to organise a lecture tour in the US giving women lessons in cigarette smoking.”

In 1939, Life magazine featured and article about lectures that taught women how “properly” to smoke cigarettes; they were sponsored by Philip Morris. You can read the article here:

clubwomen get lessons

Women were lectured on “the etiquette of cigarette smoking.” The article states that “women are the greatest potential market for future increase in cigarette sales.” It describes men’s “pet peeves” about women’s smoking habits: “messy ways of opening packages,” puffing like a steam engine,” and “lipstick smears.”

Today, tobacco companies continue their “March of Disease and Death,” and exploit every sector of society, every country, every ethnic group, every type of person, and- to add disgrace to destruction- they target precious poor children in developing countries, all so they can sell more of their rotten-to-the-core products for filthy financial gain!


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