Smoking And Women's Magazines: 2001-2002

By ACSH Staff — Dec 01, 2004
Project Coordinators: Gilbert L. Ross, M.D. Elizabeth M. Whelan, Sc.D., M.P.H., M.S. Executive Summary

Project Coordinators:

Gilbert L. Ross, M.D.

Elizabeth M. Whelan, Sc.D., M.P.H., M.S.

Executive Summary

Many women rely on magazines for information about health. Yet past studies of popular women s magazines (including studies by the American Council on Science and Health [ACSH]) have found little or no coverage of the serious health consequences of smoking, the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. ACSH s current survey examined the health and smoking-related coverage during 2001 and 2002 in 15 magazines (Cosmopolitan, Elle, Family Circle, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Harper s Bazaar, Health, Ladies Home Journal, Prevention, Reader s Digest, Redbook, Self, Shape, Vogue, and Woman s Day). The survey evaluated various forms of smoking-related messages, including:

  • articles primarily about smoking
  • references that conveyed the risks of smoking or otherwise portrayed smoking negatively
  • references that portrayed smoking in a positive light
  • advertisements both for cigarettes and by anti-smoking campaigns.

ACSH s survey revealed that the quantity of information about smoking hazards and smoking cessation continued to increase from past ACSH surveys, and many magazines sent strong and frequent anti-smoking messages. Some magazines used a variety of means to set an anti-smoking tone, for example by discussing the monetary cost or unattractiveness of smoking, or by featuring anti-smoking role models. Further, since cigarette companies have reduced the number of cigarette advertisements in magazines (particularly those with younger readership, under the terms of the Master Settlement Agreement between the tobacco industry and 46 state governments), readers were exposed to fewer messages promoting smoking (4.3 pages of ads per issue in 1999 and 2000 versus 1.5 pages per issue in the current survey).1

However, there was still room for improvement. It was still the case that only a small fraction of health articles (1.3%, 55 out of 4156) focused primarily on smoking cessation and prevention or on the risks of smoking (even while many magazines devoted much space to other serious health topics such as breast cancer, skin cancer, and obesity). Some magazines continued to ignore smoking-related information when it was relevant, downplayed the risks of smoking when they were mentioned, or even sent positive editorial messages about smoking to their readers (the magazines contained a total of 176 pro-smoking mentions). Additionally, even after the reduction in cigarette advertisements, readers were still exposed to 390 pages of advertisements that condoned or promoted smoking (contained in the 9 magazines in the sample that carried such ads). While magazines do not claim to be authoritative sources of health information and are not obligated to report the risks of smoking, they do a disservice to their readers by failing to cover adequately the dangers of smoking and by giving mixed messages about smoking.

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1 This figure only includes the 10 magazines included in both this survey and the 1999-2000 survey (Cosmopolitan, Elle, Family Circle, Glamour, Harper s Bazaar, Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, Self, Vogue, and Woman s Day).


Smoking and Women's Magazines, 2001-2002

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