Cigarette advertising and media coverage of smoking and health

N Engl J Med. 1985 Feb 7;312(6):384-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198502073120627.


PIP: In the US, media coverage of the health hazards of cigarette smoking is consored by the tobacco industry. Tobacco companies, which in 1983 alone spent US$2.5 billion on smoking promtion, are a major source of advertising revenue for many media organizations. As a result media organizations frequently refuse to publish antismoking information, tent to tone down coverage of antismoking news events, and often refuse to accept antismoking advertisements. In a 1983 "Newsweek" supplement on personal health, prepared by the American Medical Association, only 4 sentences were devoted to the negative effects of smoking. A spokesman for the association reported that "Newsweek" editors refused to allow the association to use the forum to present a strong antismoking message. In 1984 a similar type of health supplement, published by "Time," failed to mention smoking at all. An examination of 10 major women's magazines revealed that between 1967-79, 4 of the magazines published no articles about the hazards of smoking and only 8 such articles appeared in the other 6 magazines. All of these magazines carried smoking advertisements. During the same time period, 2 magazines, which refused to publish cigarette ads, published a total of 16 articles on the hazards of smoking. Small magazines which publish antismoking articles are especially vulnerable to pressure from the tobacco industry. For example, the tobacco industry canceled all its ads in "Mother Jones" after the magazine printed 2 antismoking articles. 22 out of 36 magazines refused to run antismoking advertisements when they were requested to do so. Due to poor media coverage, th public's knowledge of the hazards of smoking is deficient. Recent surveys found that 2/3 of the public did not know that smoking could cause heart attacks, and 1/2 of the respondents did not know that smoking is the major cause of lung cancer. An analysis of time trends in cigarette smoking indicates that the public does respond to antismoking information when such information is presented. Major declines in smoking occurred 1) in the early 1950s, following the publication of a major antismoking article by "Reader's Digest;" 2) in 1964, following the publicizing of the Surgeon General's report on smoking; and 3) in 1967-70, in response to the antismoking fairness doctrine messages carried by the broadcasting media. Suggested responses to counter the censorship power of the tobacco industry include 1) banning all cigarette advertisement, 2) requiring the medial to allocate equal space and time to tobacco industry and antismoking advertisements, 3) encouraging the media to develop advertising standards, 4) boycotting magazines which carry tobacco industry advertisement, and 5) legally restricting the style and content of cigarette ads. Finally journalists themselves should respond to the tobacco industry's attempt to erode freedom of the press.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Advertising / trends*
  • Attitude to Health
  • Mass Media
  • Plants, Toxic*
  • Smoking*
  • Tobacco*
  • United States