Not Just A Cover Model- A Role Model
Christy Turlington has graced the cover of so many magazines,
her face has become almost synonymous with beauty and fashion. In a presentation
adapted from a speech she gave to the Society for Women's Health Research,
Christy speaks, not as a famous model, but as a super role model for women
everywhere. Christy is a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control
(CDC) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) advocating smoke-free healthy
With her own story of tobacco addiction and losing a loved one to lung
cancer, Christy Turlington has become one of our country's most recognizable
advocates of smoking prevention. Most recently, Christy launched the website SmokingIsUgly.com with abundant information about smoking, its impact and how to quit. She has hosted the video,
"7 Deadly Myths: Women and Smoking" for the CDC's educational
outreach campaign. In addition, Ms. Turlington has many other projects
underway. She started a skin care company, Sundari; a clothing line for
yoga, Nuala; and is in the process of writing a book.
I want to commend the Society for
Women's Health Research for pioneering efforts on the frontier of medical research,
especially their perseverance in initiating and supporting the Institute of
Medicine (IOM) Report, "Sex Matters". Not only is the IOM report
important in our understanding of sex and gender differences in research and
treatment, it is underscoring a greater need for sex-based considerations in
medical studies. That sex matters, however, has never been a surprise to tobacco
In 1968, Virginia Slims was introduced
by Philip Morris. In the following six years, the number of girls ages twelve
to eighteen who smoked more than doubled. Today over 22 million American
women and one out of every four girls under the age of eighteen smoke. By
the year 2030, the combined death toll of men and women will rise to ten million
per year. That's a Vietnam War every day. A war in which the enemy is tobacco.
An over-the-counter addictive product that is the leading cause of preventable
death in this country. An addictive product whose one of many claims to fame
is having hooked at least one in five women and preying on the influences of
30% of high school senior girls.
The tobacco industry in the U.S. is a massive money-making industry that spends
billions year after year (the Industry spent $8.24 Billion in advertising alone
in 1999) tweaking its campaigns and pouring money into research studies to better
understand the psychology of "how to get a teenager to smoke." Or better
yet, "how to get a teenage girl to smoke." By creating an illusion of acceptance
or offering a rebellious outlet, cigarette ads prey on the formation of young
women's sense of self and independence. It is no surprise then that young women
comprise the fastest-growing demographic of smokers today. And unless this
insidious epidemic is counter-targeted, the numbers will only become more terrifying.
I remember when I started smoking.
I was thirteen. My dad smoked and like so many other kids who later become
smokers, I hated it. I can recall when my older sister and her friends began
to smoke. And by the time I started high school, my friends and I were smoking
as well. I can't really pinpoint why I picked up that first cigarette, or at
what point my feelings about cigarettes and smoking went from disgust to curiosity,
but I did know that it didn't take long for me to "become a smoker." Shortly
after this, I started modeling. And though my mother usually accompanied me
to appointments, believe me, I took every chance I could when she wasn't around
to light up a cigarette. I suppose I felt like it made me fit in with most
of the people in that industry. It certainly made me look independent and older.
Or so I thought. Now that I look back, you could say I was the ideal target
for the tobacco industry: young, female, wanting to fit in, wanting to look
independent, wanting to show the world that I make my own decisions.
I finally quit six years ago, at
the age of 26. I gave up smoking for good, quitting cold turkey. I couldn't
stand not having control anymore. I was fed up and embarrassed at too many
failed attempts. My dad was a different story. He had continued to smoke,
even hiding it from me. And despite a heart attack and coughing up blood, the
thought of quitting was just too overwhelming. I pleaded with my dad to quit
again after I had, showing him I was proof he could do it. I succeeded and
he finally went into a weeklong cessation program in December 1996 and quit.
Sadly, he was diagnosed with lung cancer just weeks after quitting. He died
six months later in June 1997. He was 64 years old and had smoked for over
50 years. The one thing I was most thankful for during my dad's illness was
that I wasn't still smoking. Another was that he didn't have to endure lung
cancer any longer than he did.
Lung cancer is a plague. Tobacco-related deaths claim the lives of 430,000
Americans each year. Since 1950, the death rate for lung cancer among women
has increased 600%. In 1987, lung cancer surpassed breast cancer as the leading
cause of cancer death. And last year, 27,000 more women died of lung cancer
than of breast cancer. Yet, strangely enough, many women are shocked to hear
this. Why is this? Why is it that three million women have died prematurely
because of smoking since 1980, yet this is the first Surgeon General's report
on women and smoking since then?! Imagine if the last health report
on women and HIV hadn't been issued since 1980? We wouldn't be sitting here
tonight, that I can assure you.
I am appealing to you on behalf of my father who died of lung cancer and on
behalf of my own damaged lungs, though in four more years I will have decreased
my risk by 35-50% after having been a non-smoker then for ten years. On behalf
of all of the men and women who have died from smoking-related deaths and on
behalf of every teenage girl and young woman who is picking up a cigarette for
the first time this very second. This war against tobacco is not MERELY to
protect these young women, and all people, from the bombardment of misleading
advertising and lies, but to give them their best defense weapon: education.
It is education and becoming more knowledgeable that will arm us with the tools
that will enable us to succeed and put a stop to the rising rates of preventable
death. I think most women who smoke are unaware that, first and foremost, they
have an 80 to 90% greater risk for any type of premature death, let alone from
cancer, not to mention lower bone density, an increased risk of conception delay,
a higher risk of primary and secondary infertility and a greater risk to the
adverse effects of second-hand smoke when pregnant.
We need more role models and increased awareness. We need the medical community
to join us in a campaign to increase funding for affordable pre-screening so
that a killer like lung cancer can be detected early. We need the strength
of media journalists to help inform the community and question the responsible
corporations. If we consider the amount of money that continues to flow through
the tobacco industry and out into our visual culture we need only be more inspired
to redirect that funding into women's health research. If the tobacco companies
can spend their money on us, so can we. By investing in women's health research
we are investing in our most important resource-ourselves. After 21 years of
virtual silence, perhaps we should listen to one of the current ad campaigns
out there and "find our voice."
Recently, I wrote an article for
Teen Vogue, sharing my experience as a smoker in the fashion industry.
I believe that it's important that young women are reading that smoking is not
a way to keep thin, that it's not sexy or glamorous or fashionable. In the
following issue of the magazine, a young woman wrote to the editor saying that
she had read the article and was affected by it. She was a smoker and appreciated
the honesty of the article, and was going to try to quit again. Even if I never
see another letter from a reader again I'll at least know that one girl out
there was affected by what I have to share. I truly believe that acting responsibly
is personal and if I, or anyone else at home or in the spotlight, have the opportunity
to speak or act differently and maybe even make a change, then we must.
For more information on smoking cessation, click here.
To see more information about Christy Turlington's involvement with the anti-smoking
To go to Christy Turlington's website, click
Created: 5/14/2001  - Christy Turlington