Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 139, Issue 1, pp 161–181 | Cite as

Exporting an Inherently Harmful Product: The Marketing of Virginia Slims Cigarettes in the United States, Japan, and Korea

  • Timothy Dewhirst
  • Wonkyong B. Lee
  • Geoffrey T. Fong
  • Pamela M. Ling


Ethical issues surrounding the marketing and trade of controversial products such as tobacco require a better understanding. Virginia Slims, an exclusively women’s cigarette brand first launched in 1968 in the USA, was introduced during the mid 1980s to major Asian markets, such as Japan and Korea, dominated by male smokers. By reviewing internal corporate documents, made public from litigation, we examine the marketing strategies used by Philip Morris as they entered new markets such as Japan and Korea and consider the extent that the company attempted to appeal to women in markets where comparatively few women were smokers. The case study of Virginia Slims reveals that the classification of “vulnerable” consumers is variable depending on culture, tobacco firms display responsive efforts and strategies when operating within a “mature” market, and cultural values played a role in informing Philip Morris’ strategic decision to embrace an adaptive marketing approach, particularly when entering the Korean market. Finally, moral questions are raised with tobacco being identified as a priority product for export and international trade agreements being used by corporations, governments, or trade partners in efforts to undermine domestic public health policies.


Case study Culture Marketing and consumer behavior Public health Target marketing Tobacco Virginia Slims 



This work was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research/Canadian Tobacco Control Research Initiative Idea Grant. The authors would also like to thank Jeff Darling, Judith Mackay, Rick Pollay, and Derek Taylor for their assistance or comments on a previous draft of this research as well as three anonymous reviewers. In particular, Timothy Dewhirst thanks the Canada-U.S. Fulbright Program, as he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of California, San Francisco during the early stages of this research. Wonkyong B. Lee acknowledges the Dancap Private Equity Faculty Research Award. Geoffrey T. Fong is supported by a Senior Investigator Award from the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research and a Cancer Prevention Scientist Award from the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute. Pamela M. Ling acknowledges National Cancer Institute Grant No. CA87472. Both Timothy Dewhirst and Geoffrey T. Fong have served as a paid expert witness or consulting expert for governments in countries whose policies are being challenged by parties under trade agreements.


  1. Aaker, D. A., Fuse, Y., & Reynolds, F. D. (1982). Is life-style research limited in its usefulness to Japanese advertisers? Journal of Advertising, 11(1), 31–36, 48.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, S. J., Dewhirst, T., & Ling, P. M. (2006). Every document and picture tells a story: Using internal corporate document reviews, Semiotics, and content analysis to assess tobacco advertising. Tobacco Control, 15(3), 254–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Armstrong, R. (1996). The relationship between culture and perception of ethical problems in international marketing. Journal of Business Ethics, 15, 1199–1208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arnould, E. J., & Thompson, C. J. (2005). Consumer culture theory (CCT): Twenty years of research. Journal of Consumer Research, 31(4), 868–882.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Attaran, A., & Boyd, D. R. (2008). Asbestos mortality: A Canadian export. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 179(9), 871–872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Balbach, E. D., Gasior, R. J., & Barbeau, E. M. (2003). R.J. Reynolds’ targeting of African Americans: 1988–2000. American Journal of Public Health, 93(5), 822–827.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ball, D. A., McCulloch, W. H., Jr., Frantz, P. L., Geringer, J. M., & Minor, M. S. (2004). International business: The challenge of global competition (9th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.Google Scholar
  8. Bartels, D. M., Bauman, C. W., Cushman, F. A., Pizarro, D. A., & McGraw, A. P. (2015). Moral judgment and decision making. In G. Keren & G. Wu (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell handbook of judgment and decision making. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  9. “Benson & Hedges Introduces New Cigaret [sic] For Women” (1968, July 29). Advertising Age, p. 33.Google Scholar
  10. Brandt, A. M. (2007). The cigarette century: The rise, fall, and deadly persistence of the product that defined America. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  11. British American Tobacco. (1985). R&D/Marketing Conference. Bates No. 100501581-100501657.
  12. Butler, D., & Spurgeon, D. (1997). Canada and France fall out over the risks of asbestos. Nature, 385, 379.Google Scholar
  13. Byrnes, N., & Balfour, F. (2009, May 4). Philip Morris unbound. Business Week, pp. 38–42.Google Scholar
  14. Carpenter, C. M., Wayne, G. F., & Connolly, G. N. (2005). Designing cigarettes for women: New findings from the tobacco industry documents. Addiction, 100(6), 837–851.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Carter, S. M. (2005). Tobacco document research reporting. Tobacco Control, 14(6), 368–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chaloupka, F. J., & Laixuthai, A. (1996). U.S. Trade Policy and Cigarette Smoking in Asia. National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., NBER Working Paper # 5543.Google Scholar
  17. Chase, S. (2014, July 28). Ottawa downplays German trade concerns. The Globe and Mail, p. A3.Google Scholar
  18. Cho, N. (1997, January 14). You’ve come a long way, mister: Virginia Slims Woos Korean Men. The Wall Street Journal, B8.Google Scholar
  19. Christie, P. M. J., Kwon, I.-W. G., Stoeberl, P. A., & Baumhart, R. (2003). A cross-cultural comparison of ethical attitudes of business managers: India, Korea and the United States. Journal of Business Ethics, 46, 263–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cleveland, M., & Laroche, M. (2007). Acculturation to the global consumer culture: Scale development and research paradigm. Journal of Business Research, 60(3), 249–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Davis, J. H., & Ruhe, J. A. (2003). Perceptions of country corruption: Antecedents and outcomes. Journal of Business Ethics, 43, 275–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. De Mooij, M. (1998). Masculinity/femininity and consumer behavior. In G. Hofstede (Ed.), Masculinity and femininity: The taboo dimension of national cultures (pp. 55–73). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  23. De Mooij, M. (2005). Global marketing and advertising: Understanding cultural paradoxes (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  24. Dewhirst, T. (2005). Public relations. In J. Goodman (Ed.), Tobacco in history and culture: An encyclopedia (pp. 473–479). Farmington Hills, MI: Charles Scribner’s Sons.Google Scholar
  25. Dewhirst, T. (2008). Tobacco Portrayals in U.S. advertising and entertainment media. In P. E. Jamieson & D. Romer (Eds.), The changing portrayal of adolescents in the media since 1950 (pp. 250–283). New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dollisson, J. (1989, June 15). 1989 2nd Revised Forecast Presentation—corporate affairs. Bates No. 2500101311-2500101323.
  27. Dredge, C. P. (1980). Smoking in Korea. Korea Journal, 20(4), 25–36.Google Scholar
  28. Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989). Building theories from case study research. Academy of Management Review, 14(4), 532–550.Google Scholar
  29. Federal Trade Commission. (1967). Report to Congress Pursuant to the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act (June 30). Bates No. 2016002556–2016002617.Google Scholar
  30. Federal Trade Commission. (1992). Federal Trade Commission Report to Congress for 1990 Pursuant To The Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act. Bates No. 91836698–91836735.Google Scholar
  31. Ferrell, O. C., & Fraedrich, J. (1991). Business ethics: Ethical decision making and cases. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.Google Scholar
  32. Ferrell, O. C., Fraedrich, J., & Gresham, L. G. (1985). A contingency framework for understanding ethical decision making in marketing. Journal of Marketing, 49(Summer), 87–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Friedman, V. (1973, June 28). The Female Smoker Market. Lorillard Tobacco Company Memorandum Sent to Dick Smith. Bates No. 03375503-03375510.
  34. Gaouette, N. (1998, March 9). Japan ads sell women on smoking. The Christian Science Monitor.
  35. Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago, IL: Aldine Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  36. Hofstede, G. (1991). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  37. Hofstede, G. (1998). Masculinity and femininity: The taboo dimension of national cultures. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  38. Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  39. Holbert, N. (1973, December 4). Virginia Slims attitude study. Bates No. 1000735990–1000736007.
  40. Holbert, N. (1981, August 3). Cigarette tracking study: Demographics of smokers. Bates No. 2024984001–2024984056.
  41. Hollis, N. (2008). The global brand: How to create and develop lasting brand value in the world market. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  42. Honjo, K., & Kawachi, I. (2000). Effects of market liberalisation on smoking in Japan. Tobacco Control, 9(2), 193–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hutchinson, B. (1969, March 17). Philip Morris keeps climbing as brands mature on ‘Pleasure’ claim. Advertising Age, 40, p. 76.Google Scholar
  44. Japan Tobacco Inc. (2013). Annual Report 2013. Tokyo: Japan Tobacco Inc.Google Scholar
  45. Jeb Lee, J. P. (1969, June 2–July 25). Product Promotion Plan. Fourth National Sales Cycle. Bates No. 1002350443–1002350461.
  46. Kaufman, N. J., & Nichter, M. (2001). The marketing of tobacco to women: Global perspectives. In J. M. Samet & S.-Y. Yoon (Eds.), Women and the tobacco epidemic: Challenges for the 21st century (pp. 69–98). Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
  47. Kim, H.-S. (2001, December 13). Hankyung Advertising Award. Korean Business Newspaper.Google Scholar
  48. Kim, K. J. (1998). A study on the mechanism of the consumers’ behavior being influenced by the smoking regulations and anti-smoking movements. Seoul: Yonsei University.Google Scholar
  49. Kluger, R. (1997). Ashes to ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the public health, and the unabashed triumph of Philip Morris. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  50. Knight, J., & Chapman, S. (2004). ‘Asian Yuppies…Are always looking for something new and different’: Creating a tobacco culture among young Asians. Tobacco Control, 13(Supplement 2), ii22–ii29.Google Scholar
  51. Kotler, P., Armstrong, G., & Cunningham, P. H. (2005). Principles of marketing (6th Canadian ed.). Toronto, ON: Pearson Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  52. Lambert, A., Sargent, J. D., Glantz, S. A., & Ling, P. M. (2004). How Philip Morris unlocked the Japanese cigarette market: Lessons for global tobacco control. Tobacco Control, 13(4), 379–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Lankov, A. (2007). The dawn of modern Korea: The transformation in life and cityscape. Seoul: EunHaeng NaMu.Google Scholar
  54. Leo Burnett (1989, August). Virginia Slims 1990 marketing & advertising program recommendation. Bates No. 2048683805–2048683920.
  55. Lu, L.-C., Rose, G. M., & Blodgett, J. G. (1999). The effects of cultural dimensions on ethical decision making in marketing: An exploratory study. Journal of Business Ethics, 18, 91–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Mackay, J., & Eriksen, M. (2002). The tobacco atlas. Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
  57. Mackay, M. E., & Shafey, O. (2006). The tobacco atlas (2nd ed.). Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society.Google Scholar
  58. McAlister, A. R., & Cornwell, T. B. (2009). Preschool children’s persuasion knowledge: The contribution of theory of mind. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 28(2), 175–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. McGrady, B. (2012). Implications of ongoing trade and investment disputes concerning tobacco: Philip Morris v Uruguay. In T. Voon, A. D. Mitchell, J. Liberman, & G. Ayres (Eds.), Public health and plain packaging of cigarettes: Legal issues (pp. 173–199). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  60. Merriam, S. B. (2001). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.Google Scholar
  61. Milner, L. M., & Collins, J. M. (2000). Sex-role portrayals and the gender of nations. Journal of Advertising, 29(1), 67–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs, Republic of Korea. (2008). Action for Smoke-Free Korea 2008. Seoul: Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs.Google Scholar
  63. National Cancer Institute. (2008). The role of the media in promoting and reducing tobacco use. Tobacco Control Monograph No. 19. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute.Google Scholar
  64. Office of the United States Trade Representative. (2013). Fact Sheet: New proposal on tobacco regulation in the trans-pacific partnership.
  65. Ohwada, H. I., & Nakayama, T. (2003). Smoking patterns of university woman students in Miyagi, Japan: The Miyagaku study. Journal of Epidemiology, 13(6), 296–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. O’Keefe, A. M., & Pollay, R. W. (1996). Deadly targeting of women in promoting cigarettes. Journal of the American Medical Women Association, 51(1–2), 67–69.Google Scholar
  67. Pechmann, C., Levine, L., Loughlin, S., & Leslie, F. (2005). Impulsive and self-conscious: Adolescents’ vulnerability to advertising and promotion. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 24(2), 202–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Philip Morris. (1977). Philip Morris Incorporated Annual Report 1977. Bates No. 2040357288–2040357340.
  69. Philip Morris. (1978). Virginia Slims introduces the low tar cigarette made just for women. Letter from H.B. Coleman to Field Sales Management Re: Virginia Slims Lights National Introduction. Bates No. 1005064182–1005064229.
  70. Philip Morris. (1979). Philip Morris Incorporated Annual Report 1979. Bates No. 2043819548–2043819607.
  71. Philip Morris. (1985). Japan 1985 Marketing Workshop. Bates No. 2504012333–2504012639.
  72. Philip Morris. (1986, October 6). Untitled [speech in Philip Morris Asia executive management files outlining Japan marketing plans]. Bates No. 2504038462–2504038529.
  73. Philip Morris. (1989a). Project Nova 1 & 2. Bates No. 2504051101–2504051113.
  74. Philip Morris. (1989b). PM International 1989–1993 Business Plan. Bates No. 2500103013–2500103028.
  75. Philip Morris. (1989c). Cigarette Export White Paper. Bates No. 2500057650–2500057720.
  76. Philip Morris. (1990, June). Research review, research plan, research budget: Korea. Bates No. 2504036324–2504036442.
  77. Philip Morris. (1993). ’93 Market Tracking Study. Bates No. 2504027130–2504027135.
  78. Philip Morris. (1994a, July 17). Strategy workshop goals. Bates No. 2500134074–2500134150.
  79. Philip Morris. (1994b, November 30). Staying ahead in the international tobacco market. Presentation remarks by W.H. Webb given to New York office employees. Bates No. 2072010561.
  80. Philip Morris. (1994c, October). How advertising works: Competition in a mature market. Bates No. 2025834361–2025834362.
  81. Philip Morris. (1996a). Philip Morris USA Market Share Information 1974–1996. Bates No. 2077996067–2077996095.
  82. Philip Morris. (1996b), “Awareness, Advertising & Image Tracking,” Bates No. 2063716794-2063716795, available at
  83. Philip Morris International. (1992). Worldwide Marlboro Monitor 1992. Bates No. 2500161989–2500162002.
  84. Philip Morris Kabushiki Kaisha. (1990, May). PMKK 1990 2RF Marketing Plans. Bates No. 2504031920–2504032079.
  85. Philip Morris Kabushiki Kaisha (1991, April 5). VSLM Print Advertising Test. Bates No. 2504059015–2504059081.
  86. Philip Morris Kabushiki Kaisha (1994). Share of Starters 1994. Bates No. 2500155022–2500155023.
  87. Pierce, J. P., & Gilpin, E. A. (1995). A historical analysis of tobacco marketing and the uptake of smoking by youth in the United States: 1890–1977. Health Psychology, 14, 500–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Pierce, J. P., Gilpin, E. A., Lee, L., & Gilpin, E. A. (1994). Smoking initiation by adolescent girls, 1944 through 1988: An association with targeted advertising. Journal of the American Medical Association, 271, 608–611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Pollay, R. W., & Dewhirst, T. (2002). The dark side of marketing seemingly ‘light’ cigarettes: Successful images and failed fact. Tobacco Control, 11(Supplement 1), i18–i31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Princiotta, J. (1981, May/June). Virginia Slims market analysis. Bates No. 2043787044–2043787101.
  91. Randerson, J. (2001). Canada’s Killer Export. New Scientist, 171, 16.Google Scholar
  92. Richards, J., John, W., Tye, J. B., & Fischer, P. M. (1996). The tobacco industry’s code of advertising in the United States: Myth and reality. Tobacco Control, 5, 295–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Rittenburg, T. L., & Parthasarathy, M. (1997). Ethical implications of target market selection. Journal of Macromarketing, 17(2), 49–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Roper, Jr., R. P., & Gatenby, C. D. (1991, June). 1991 2nd RF Japan. Prepared for Philip Morris. Bates No. 2504038824–2504038902.
  95. Roper Research Associates. (1970, May). A study of cigarette smokers’ habits and attitudes in 1970. Bates No. 2040544778–2040545158.
  96. Ryan, F. J. (1987, February 24). Consumer testing of B&W’s Capri, February 2–5, 1987. Philip Morris Internal Memo. Bates No. 2057762566–2057762574.
  97. Saleeby, Jr., R. N. (1968, September 17). Virginia Slims performance in San Francisco. Bates No. 1002430063–1002430064.
  98. Sanchagrin, T. (1968). How have cigarette advertisers held the line? Printers’ Ink Marketing/Communications, 296, 26.Google Scholar
  99. Sautter, E. T., & Oretskin, N. A. (1997). Tobacco targeting: The ethical complexity of marketing to minorities. Journal of Business Ethics, 16, 1011–1017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Sesser, S. (1993, September 13). Opium War Redux. The New Yorker, pp. 78–89.Google Scholar
  101. Shafey, O., Dolwick, S., & Guindon, G. E. (2003). Tobacco Control Country Profiles 2003. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society.Google Scholar
  102. Smith, N. C., & Cooper-Martin, E. (1997). Ethics and target marketing: The role of product harm and consumer vulnerability. Journal of Marketing, 61(July), 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Swaidan, Z. (2012). Culture and consumer ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 108, 201–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Takarabe, M. (1994, April 19). Marlboro Monitor 1993—Two years starters/switchers data. Prepared for A. Liu, Philip Morris Kabushiki Kaisha, Tokyo, Japan. Bates No. 2500156577.
  105. Tatham Euro RSCG (1995, August). Misty Slims: Brandscape Exploration. Prepared for Sharon Smith, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. Bates No. 433011533–433011586.
  106. Tavernise, S. (2013, December 13). Tobacco firms’ strategy limits poorer nations’ smoking laws. The New York Times.Google Scholar
  107. “Text of Cigarette Industry’s New Code” (1964, April 28). The New York Times.Google Scholar
  108. The New York Times’ Editorial Board. (2013, December 15). Big tobacco bullies. The New York Times.Google Scholar
  109. Ticehurst, G. W., & Veal, A. J. (2000). Business research methods: A managerial approach. Frenchs Forest, NSW: Longman.Google Scholar
  110. Tobacco Institute. (undated). How advertising works: Competition in a mature market. Bates No. TI16952621.
  111. Toll, B. A., & Ling, P. M. (2005). The Virginia Slims identity crisis: An inside look at tobacco industry marketing to women. Tobacco Control, 14(3), 172–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  112. Turnbull, J. (2010, June 6). The gender politics of smoking in South Korea: Part 1. The Grand Narrative.
  113. Unger, J. B., et al. (2003). Exploring the cultural context of tobacco use: A transdisciplinary framework. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 5(Supplement 1), S101–S117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  114. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2007). Tobacco situation and outlook report yearbook. Washington, DC: Market and Trade Economics Division, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.Google Scholar
  115. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2001). Women and smoking: A report of the surgeon general. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  116. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Preventing tobacco use among youth and young adults: A report of the surgeon general. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health.Google Scholar
  117. Webb, W. H. (1990). 1990 PMI Board Presentation—Japan/Korea. Prepared for Philip Morris. Bates No. 2500104159–2500104167.
  118. Wild, J. J., Wild, K. L., & Han, J. C. Y. (2006). International business: The challenges of globalization (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  119. World Health Organization. (2008). Mpower: A policy package to reverse the tobacco epidemic. Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
  120. Yin, R. K. (2003). Case study research: Design and methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy Dewhirst
    • 1
  • Wonkyong B. Lee
    • 2
  • Geoffrey T. Fong
    • 3
  • Pamela M. Ling
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies, College of Business and EconomicsUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  2. 2.Dan Management and Organizational Studies, Faculty of Social SciencesWestern UniversityLondonCanada
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada
  4. 4.Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of MedicineUniversity of CaliforniaSan FranciscoUSA

Personalised recommendations