It’s not surprising that R.J. Reynolds is introducing “Camel No. 9,” a cigarette aimed at women. After all, Reynolds’ job is getting people to smoke, and based on the statistics — smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, and lung cancer among women (as a New York Times editorial points out) is “the only major form of cancer whose death toll is rising” — women are their market.
What’s surprising, or at least worth a second look, is the degree to which the tobacco company believes that marketing and packaging — the dark arts of attention-getting — are smart investments.
Again according to the Times, they’re going to spend up to $50 million to promote hot-pink and teal packaging, “ads adorned with flowers,” and slogans like “light and luscious.” The No. 9 part of the name is supposed to trigger associations in women’s brains like “cloud nine,” “dressed to the nines,” “Love Potion No. 9,” and the perfume Chanel No. 19.
In other words, women who know full well that smoking can kill them, many of whom have struggled to quit, will nevertheless find this appeal to their hard-wiring to be irresistible. A color scheme can overrule the human will. A picture is worth a thousand New Year’s resolutions. A sensory promise and a word-association are easily as powerful as a promise to oneself, and an association between product use and death.
Cigarette advertising directed at kids is (at least in principle) regulated, because kids are assumed to have inadequate defenses against equations between smoking and coolness. But why do we think adults are insusceptible? Any industry that spends $50 million betting that our limbic systems easily overrule our cortical neurons is probably on to something scary about our species.