Furor flares up over cigarette magazine ads

By Published on .

Anti-smoking advocates revived a five-year debate over teen readership of magazines carrying tobacco ads. But magazine executives insist the readership data feeding the furor is inaccurate.

The Magazine Publishers of America rebutted critics' charges that tobacco marketers have increased advertising in magazine titles with an underage readership greater than 15%. It said the research anti-smoking groups relied on was flawed because teen readership percentages for the titles checked were determined by combining separate adult and teen readership surveys that used different methodologies.


The MPA said the first comprehensive study of family readership that will provide reliable readership numbers -- a Simmons Market Research Bureau study surveying everyone in a household more than 6 years of age -- will be out in July.

"Right now, there is no syndicated study that measures total audience, so [overall] numbers are surrogates," said Tom Robinson, MPA senior VP-research and marketing.

He said that in the past Simmons and Mediamark Research Inc. interviewed adults about magazines they read in person and then mailed teens a shorter questionnaire asking about certain magazines.

"The studies stand on their own [in showing the interest of teens or adults in individual magazines], but some people try to put the studies together. Any researcher would agree you can't do that," Mr. Robinson said.

Howard Shimmel, president of Symmetrical Resources, of which Simmons is a division, said the new study of 200 titles can be used to look at teen readership.

"What somebody would be able to do is evaluate teen smoking and to what extent it occurs, but then also look at it behaviorally or from a readership standpoint to determine what is the actual audience of teens for a given magazine," he said.

The furor erupted last week as tobacco critics accused cigarette marketers of taking the money from billboard ads barred in a settlement of state lawsuits and moving it instead to magazine ads in titles reaching kids less than 18 years old. A study by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and another from the American Legacy Foundation showed an increase in tobacco ads in magazines with at least 15% readership by those under 18.


Tobacco marketers were quick to deny the charges. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. said its magazine ad spending decreased last year. Philip Morris USA said such charges weren't true, adding it will pull its tobacco ads off the back covers of magazines, a move that no rival immediately followed. (PM said it would keep its commitment to publishers, substituting either youth responsibility ads or ads for its Kraft Foods or Miller Brewing Co. units.)

Brown & Wil-liamson Tobacco Corp. said it had pulled ads from nearly a dozen publications because of worries that youths would see the ads, adding it wouldn't advertise in titles unless publications certified that less than 15% of readers were under 18.


State attorneys general said they might seek action against the tobacco marketers to enforce provisions of their settlement with them.

"I am disturbed and disappointed by the results of these studies," said Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who heads the enforcement committee created by the agreement. "Attorneys general . . . are attempting to gather the data necessary to bring enforcement action."

For magazine publishers, the readership debate wasn't entirely new. Five years ago, the Food & Drug Administration first proposed limiting ads in titles with more than 2 million or more than 15% underage readers, prompting tobacco marketers to list affected titles drawn from combining the two types of surveys. The result: calls for improved readership research.

Contributing: Ann Marie Kerwin

Most Popular
In this article: