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Women and Smoking

The US surgeon general released a report Tuesday calling smoking and its effects an epidemic among women and blaming the tobacco industry for targeting younger women, Paul Moniz reports.

The tobacco industry spends more than $8 billion a year promoting its products with marketing that includes ads showing attractive, fit-looking women portraying cigarettes as sexy, a trend David Satcher, the surgeon general, wants curtailed.

"Women are a primary target," he says. "The notion that these product liberate women and make then more independent and career minded is a common strategy and we're very concerned about it."

The findings imply that the surgeon general's own efforts to deter women from quitting smoking have not been very effective. One in five American women smokes and nearly one in three high school senior girls lights up.

The report shows a 600% in increase in women's lung cancer deaths since 1950. Women now account for 40% of smoking-related deaths, double the percentage it was in 1965.

Twenty-eight-year-old Ari Nikolopoulous started smoking when she was 18. She admits lighting up makes her feel trendy.

"It's definitely a social thing when you go out to a bar," she says.

Model Christy Turlington used to think smoking was glamorous, too, until smoking-related cancer killed her father, and her own smoking gave her emphysema.

"My role as a model and person in the public eye is to demystify those glamorous images," she says.

Experts say 90% of women begin smoking in their teens. The challenge is to change attitudes.

Ann Merlino of the American Cancer Society says trying to counter slick marketing campaigns by big tobacco with widespread education and awareness programs in schools is a formidable but necessary task.

The surgeon general says that contrary to popular belief, lung cancer is much more deadly to women than breast cancer: 68,000 female lung cancer deaths are projected this year, compared with 41,000 deaths from breast cancer.

It's a statistic that surprises Ari.

"I think it's awful," she says. "And I think it's a good incentive to stop, absolutely."

Smoking is also linked to throat and bladder cancers in women.

But many smokers, such as Maria Verhoven, take offense at the government telling them how to live. Despite the documented risks, she in fact says that she remains convinced that her pack-a-week habit will actually protect her body.

"Like, you know smoked meat is better than raw meat?" she asks. "Well, I think its preserves me!"

Late Tuesday afternoon, Mike Pfeil, the vice president of Phillip Morris, defended Big Tobacco.

"Philip Morris has a youth smoking prevention program and has devoted $100 million per year to reach out and educate parents, communities, and kids," he said.

The surgeon general is encouraging women of all ages to quit, whether they smoke one cigarette a day or two packs. Better smoking cessation programs and statewide toacco control programs are also part of the solution.

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