A group of congressional Democrats are pressuring popular magazines to cease tobacco advertising. In letters written to US Weekly, People, Time, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly, the eight lawmakers cited a congressional staff report that ties marketing of tobacco products to an increase in smoking among teenagers.
“Among magazines with high levels of teen readers, Rolling Stone had some of the highest numbers of advertisements and glamorous images of tobacco and e-cigarettes,” the group — which includes Sens. Tom Harkin and Richard Blumenthal — wrote to Editor-in-chief Jann S. Wenner.
Efforts to stunt the tobacco industry’s influence since the 1950s haven’t worked as well as anti-smoking advocates would have hoped. Each day, the five largest cigarette companies spend a total of more than $34 million advertising their products in magazine and retail stores. A significant portion of the allocation often goes toward the promotion of smokeless tobacco products and e-cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Other forms of tobacco like hookah and Black-and-Mild cigars have steadily replaced traditional cigarettes as the products of choice. One out of three high school students admit to using different forms of tobacco concurrently.
While smoking numbers have declined in recent years, some people say that R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard — the second and third largest tobacco companies in the nation, respectively — will most likely continue a decades-old business model that thrives on the support of young people, also known as “replacement smokers.”
“When tobacco companies feel the heat, they retreat. But when they feel the heat has died down, they come back out,” Vince Willmore, the vice president of communications at Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told ThinkProgress.
“Willmore added: “Courts blocked implementation of a 2009 law that would have restricted tobacco advertising in magazines. Camel cigarettes have been out of magazines for several years then they made a comeback last year in magazines like Rolling Stone. This year, we saw Skoal, one of the most popular smokeless tobacco brands among kids, start advertising in magazines again after several years. We’ve also seen an increase in e-cigarette ads.”
Big Tobacco’s strategy has proven to be successful and deadly. According to the CDC, nine out of 10 smokers usually pick up the habit before the age of 18. The federal agency predicts 5.6 million premature deaths among teen smokers — a group that increases by increments of 32,000 every day, due in part to big tobacco’s relentless advertising.
Minority youth have especially felt the brunt of the tobacco industry’s marketing power. According to data compiled by the American Lung Association, African-American youth see 350 more tobacco advertisements annually than the overall average. In the early 2000s, magazine advertising expenditures for methanol cigarettes — a product some people say tobacco companies cater to communities of color — increased by more than 30 percentage points.
Young women have also been subjected to a barrage of messages from tobacco manufacturers. Experts say that the advertisements tailored to the demographic often tout the values of independence, stylishness, weight control, and maturity. A 2009 study highlighted Philip Morris’ efforts to appeal to women by affirming its commitment to mothers and domestic abuse victims. The tobacco company, which owns nearly a dozen cigarette brands, secured alliance with women groups as a result.
Last year, five health groups, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, wrote a letter to the Tobacco Committee co-chairs of the National Association of Attorney in response to R.J. Reynold’s efforts to advertise Camel Crush cigarettes — a product with a capsule in the filter that allows the smoke to be menthol flavored when crushed — in publications widely circulated among teenagers.
“We believe that R.J. Reynolds’ new ad campaign does directly or indirectly target youth because the entire ad buy is reaching millions of youth and several of the individual magazines have large youth readerships,” the letter said. “In just one month of activity, the Camel Crush ads were found to have reached more than 50 percent of 12-24 year olds, yielding more than 61 million impressions.”
Fortunately, the fight against tobacco has gone beyond letter writing. Last month, millions of teenagers saw a television ad during the MTV Video Music Awards that featured a montage of celebrities — including Rihanna, Kiefer Sutherland, and Orlando Bloom — smoking cigarettes in their off time. The ad’s goal: to encourage celebrities to kick a deadly habit that youth will most likely find appealing because they see their favorite stars partaking in it.
A series of graphic CDC anti-smoking advertisements touted as “Tips from a Former Smoker” also featured two middle-aged people who lost their teeth, a man with a hole in his mouth and a woman who had a premature baby, as a result of smoking.