“Torches of Freedom”: Themes of Women’s Liberation in American Cigarette Advertising (1999)

Authors: Steve Craig


Women began smoking in the United States during the 1920’s, when the cigarette was adopted by factory workers and college women as a symbol of rebellion, independence, and equality. Tobacco companies exploited this new market by directing advertising at women. One brand in particular — Lucky Strike — had remarkable success by promoting cigarettes as women’s “torches of freedom” — symbols of feminist defiance. In the late 1960’s, a similar strategy emerged when tobacco companies created new “women’s brands” designed to exploit the excitement caused by the resurgence of the women’s movement. The most economically successful of these was Virginia Slims, which used an advertising campaign that explicitly tied smoking to women’s liberation. But the promotion of women’s brands has also been credited by medical researchers with playing a major role in the subsequent fourfold increase in lung cancer rates in women. This paper presents a brief history of the Luck Strike and Virginia Slims advertising campaigns and examines how these advertisers perversely used the rhetoric and imagery of liberation to lure women into destructive addiction.

Read more: Research Gate