A spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, the nation's second-largest tobacco company, confirmed the return to print advertising, but would not elaborate on the company's strategy.
"We advertise in a broad range of titles to communicate to a broad range of adult tobacco consumers," said David Howard, senior communications director for parent company Reynolds American. "When dealing with brand marketing, you're always looking to evolve."
R.J. Reynolds stopped advertising Camel cigarettes in newspapers or consumer magazines in late 2007 after drawing criticism -- and lawsuits -- for an ad in Rolling Stone that was wrapped around a cartoon. During that same year, the company also faced scrutiny from some members of the U.S. House of Representatives over its Camel No. 9 brand cigarettes, which were marketed toward women.
Since 2007, R.J. Reynolds has promoted smokeless tobacco products in print, Mr. Howard said. Ads for the cigarette brand American Spirit, which is owned by Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, a subsidiary of Reynolds American, also appear in print.
The five health organizations -- the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Legacy, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association -- say the company's latest effort appeals to minors because the ads include magazines with a high number of young readers.
The groups made their argument in a May 28 letter to the National Association of Attorneys General, which provides guidance to state attorneys general on a variety of subjects, including issues related to the landmark 1998 settlement with tobacco companies.
"R.J. Reynolds cannot be allowed to get away with yet another marketing campaign that entices America's kids into a deadly addiction," the groups' letter said. Nine of the magazines named by the groups -- Entertainment Weekly, ESPN The Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, People, Glamour, InStyle, Us Weekly and Vogue -- show a total teen readership of 12.9 million, the letter said, citing data from industry researcher GfK MRI.
"Reynolds seems to put a 'kick me' sign on themselves every time they make a move like this," said Peter Hamm, of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. "They've come out of the box after five years of being dark to target a who's who list of magazines that appeal to teenagers."
Spokeswomen for Time Inc. and Conde Nast, which publish several of the magazines, said Thursday evening that they would try to respond but did not provide comment by Friday afternoon. A spokeswoman for Wenner's Us Weekly and Rolling Stone did not respond to messages left seeking comment.
Magazines, which continue to face headwinds in print advertising, are free to accept advertising from tobacco companies. But the 1998 settlement between the four largest tobacco companies and 46 U.S. states, a pact known as the Master Settlement Agreement, created broad restrictions on the marketing of cigarettes, including language that prohibited the targeting of youth. In 2001, the state of California sued R.J. Reynolds, alleging it violated the ban by placing ads in magazines with high teen readership. Three years later, R.J. Reynolds settled with the state of California, agreeing to restrictions on its advertisements in magazines with a large number of teen readers.
The restrictions, which R.J. Reynolds' Mr. Howard said were in place prior to the settlement, state that the company will only advertise in magazines where at least 85% of readers are 18 and older when data are available on readers older than 12. For magazines that offer only data on readers 18 and older, the company buys ads if the median age of the audience is 23 or older.
Lorillard, the third largest maker of cigarettes, has similar restrictions on its magazine advertising. The largest tobacco company in the U.S., Philip Morris USA, a subsidiary of Altria, does not advertise tobacco in print, according to spokesperson.
Magazines have continued to do well by tobacco companies despite the restrictions. The tobacco industry spent $125 million on advertising in measured media in 2007, according to Kantar Media, including $104.2 million on consumer magazines. Last year it spent $113.5 million on measured media, including $96.2 million on consumer magazines. Reynolds American spent $31.9 million last year across all its brands and products, Kantar said, including $2.5 million on Camel cigarettes and $29.2 million on American Spirit.
Advertising in measured media such as print is just one part of tobacco companies' marketing strategy, which includes promotional efforts such as displays at retail, direct-to-consumer marketing and events.