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R.J. Reynolds aims new cigarette at young white women

The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. plans to introduce a brand of cigarettesoon that, according to a marketing strategy prepared for the company, targets young, poorly educated white women whom the company calls "virile females."

Reynolds plans to test the new brand, called Dakota, next month in Houston. The marketing plan's chief goal is to capture the lucrative market among 18- to 24-year-old women, the only group of Americans whose rate of smoking continues to increase. The competition for that group has become intense.

The advertising campaign focuses on a certain group of women whose favorite pastimes, according to the marketing plan, include "cruising," "partying" and attending "Hot Rod shows" and "tractor pulls" with their boyfriends.

The extensive proposals for "Project V.F.," for virile female, were provided Friday to the Washington Post. They describe the preferred "Dakota" smoker as a woman with no education beyond high school, whose favorite television roles are Roseanne and "evening soap opera (bitches)" and whose chief aspiration is "to get married in her early twenties" and spend her free time "with her boyfriend doing whatever he is doing."

Reynolds officials said in a statement that Dakota is not aimed solely at women. "Different products are designed to different categories of consumers," the statement said. "Dakota is no different. It is not a male brand or a female brand." Reynolds officials would not elaborate, and it could not be determined whether the marketing report, prepared by Promotional Marketing Inc., had been accepted by the tobacco company.

Disclosure of the marketing recommendations comes just three weeks after Reynolds was forced by strong opposition to cancel plans to test market Uptown, a brand of cigarette aimed at blacks. The marketing study for Dakota shows how the cigarette was designed to "replace Marlboro as the brand of choice among female smokers 18-24."

"It is especially reprehensible to lure young people into smoking and potential lifelong nicotine addiction," said Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan when asked about the marketing plan. "And the risk that smoking specifically poses for women adds another tawdry dimension to any cigarette marketing effort aimed at younger women."

Sullivan, who led the fight against Uptown, said he plans to testify before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee on the practice of targeting tobacco advertising.

Reynolds acknowledged plans to market Dakota but reacted angrily to questions about the study.

"Reynolds does not know what these documents contain," the company said Friday in a statement. "Reynolds does not know if they are authentic or fabricated. ... If they are authentic, they represent stolen, proprietary information belonging to R.J. Reynolds, and which would be of great value to our competitors."

"We do our work for Reynolds," said Steve Gilries, vice president of Promotional Marketing, when asked about the report. "We did that for Reynolds, and they will be glad to tell you all about it."

As millions of better-educated, prosperous Americans have quit smoking, tobacco companies have turned their marketing efforts increasingly to the poor, minorities and young women who have become their most solid customers. Targeting sales to specific niches is a common, accepted practice in virtually every aspect of American advertising, but it has become extremely controversial when applied to tobacco products aimed at groups at unusually high risk for the diseases caused by smoking.

Cigarette companies argue that they are only trying to lure customers from one brand to another and that since their product is legal, it makes perfect sense for them to seek the most likely potential buyers.

But public health officials and opponents of smoking say it is unfair to compare selling cigarettes to selling cars, clothes or stereos because cigarettes are the only legal product that kills people when used as intended.

"All the cigarette companies are now facing the fact that tobacco is no longer a growth industry," said former surgeon general C. Everett Koop, a well-known foe of smoking. "They are killing several hundred thousand of their customers each year and they need to be replaced. How can they do that? By exploiting foreign markets and young girls, the one group of Americans that have not begun to cut back. It's absolutely deplorable."