Wednesday, February 25, 2009


by Annette Leal Mattern

I began researching this article in a completely different frame of mind. I had recently come across hideous marketing campaigns by the makers of Virginia Slims and Camel cigarettes. Both campaigns specifically target young girls, wooing them by creating an image - women who smoke are sexy and hip and free. Chic new packaging make the cigarettes a fashion statement and I wondered how many impressionable young girls (yes girls, not women) fell under the spell, succumbed to the myth. How many new smokers joined the ranks?

Last year, Camel, a male-dominated brand, packaged their cigarettes in fuchsia and mint lined, black shiny boxes and called them Camel No. 9, a clear rip-off of French perfume Chanel No. 19. This year, Virginia Slims launched a campaign that packages “stiletto” thin cigarettes in adorable pink and teal half-size purses, the must-have accessory for the clubbing crowd.

Naturally, I expected young Latinas to be very vulnerable to this marketing hype . . . but I was wrong. In this category, Hispanic women are not leading this pack and I’m thrilled. In this race, we don’t want to be first.

Around 1925, Edward Bernays originated modern public relations by drawing upon his uncle Sigmund Freud's psychological ideas for the purpose of marketing products. Bernays was one of the first to attempt to manipulate public opinion using the subconscious.

One of Bernays first industries: tobacco.
The strategy: use authorities to convince consumers to buy.

The subsequent 83 years have been a constant flow of subliminal messages about cigarettes as exciting, smooth tasting, satisfying, manly, sexy, empowering, chic, classy, slick and even healthy. We met the Marlboro Man, all rugged yet polished, and we were hooked. And millions of Americans bought pack after pack after pack.

Here are the statistics of smokers in the United States:
-Among non-Hispanic whites, 23.5 percent of men and 18.8 percent of women smoke.

- Among Hispanics, 20.1 percent of men and 10.1 percent of women smoke.

-Among the youth, 22% of Hispanic high school students smoke, compared with 25% of non-Hispanic whites. Even younger, 9% of the Hispanic middle school student population are smokers.

A study by the Center for Disease control attributes this disparity to an important cultural difference: Seventy-one percent (71%) of all Hispanic households do not allow smoking in the home. This smoking ban in the home further protects Hispanic youth from secondhand smoke.

Hispanic smokers are more likely to try to quit than non-Hispanic white smokers but are less likely to have access to resources such as doctors or nicotine replacement therapy, so they are not as successful. Only 43% of Hispanic smokers are able to quit, compared to 51% of non-Hispanic whites.

Unfortunately, the Hispanic community is drifting closer to the non-Hispanic white smoker, as families become more acculturated into the mainstream of the U.S. and this is not good.

So here’s the ugly part no one wants to hear-

Cancer is the second leading cause of death among Hispanics in the U.S. Almost one in five Hispanic deaths is attributable to cancer. Over 20,000 Hispanics died of cancer in 2002. In 2000, about 1,000 Hispanic women and 2,000 Hispanic men died of lung cancer. Cigarette smoking is overwhelmingly the most important cause of lung cancer, but it also increases the risk for other cancers, including cervix, mouth, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach and some forms of leukemia.

Additionally, heart attacks/ cardiovascular disease are the primary cause of death of Hispanics in the United States. In 2002, heart disease killed more than 27,000 Hispanics. Smoking is a major cause of heart disease.

The third leading cause of death in the U.S. and fourth among Hispanics is stroke. In 2002, nearly 6,500 Hispanics died of strokes. Smoking significantly increases the risk for stroke. Overall, smokers have a life span that is 15 years shorter than non-smokers.

If you smoke, find a way to quit - - now. Please. Whatever it takes, you must stop, for yourself, for the people who love you, for the rest of us. I lost people I loved to lung cancer and the pain, the loss, the grief, the missed years, the caregiving and the cost are all our business.

Find resources and set yourself up for success. Search the Internet for smoke cessation and you’ll find tons of resources to support you. The current thinking on smoke cessation is that a multi-prong program is best, using prescription medications, nicotine replacement and mind/body tools such as exercise, yoga, meditation or even hypnosis.

If teenagers in your household are smoking, make it a top priority to get them to quit. To them, smoking is an initiation ritual and a sign of independence. But it will soon become a deadly habit that most smokers regret.

We need to build a world where young people reject tobacco because they see it for what it is, an addictive and toxic practice designed to seduce our very own ego.

And, as the Hispanic “market segment” grows, we’ll see more and more Latinos and Latinas in ads with gorgeous clothes and fast cars, beautiful brown skin and dark eyes, sensual and sophisticated and smoking.

It’s smart marketing but very bad business.

Slogan: "Never let the goody two shoes get you down"


About the author:
Annette Leal Mattern held numerous corporate leadership positions where she championed development of minorities for upper management. She received the National Women of Color Technology Award for Enlightenment for her diversity achievements and was recognized by Latina Style and Vice President Gore as one of the most influential Latinas in American business. In 2000, she left her corporate work to devote herself to women's cancer causes. Her book,
Outside The Lines of love, life, and cancer, helps people cope with the disease. Annette serves on the board of directors of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance and founded the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Arizona, for which she serves as president. Annette also writes for

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