Women's Magazines Downplay Smoking Risks, But Reporting Is Improving

New York, NY -- December 2004. Many women rely on magazines for information about health yet surveys show that popular women's magazines feature little or no coverage of the serious health consequences of smoking, the leading preventable cause of death, even while other health topics, serious and trivial, are covered at great length.

The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) has once again studied women's magazines to gauge the information they present about smoking, detailing the results in the report Smoking And Women's Magazines: 2001-2002. This new ACSH survey examines the health and smoking-related coverage in fifteen magazines, including 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.

Coverage of the negative health effects of smoking has increased considerably in recent decades, but there is still much room for improvement. Only a small fraction of the health articles surveyed in the new study (1.3%, or 55 out of 4,156) focused primarily on quitting or preventing smoking 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 to the topics they covered, downplayed the risks of smoking when they were mentioned, or even sent positive editorial messages about smoking to their readers (particularly Elle, Vogue, and Harper's Bazaar). Additionally, readers were exposed to 390 pages of cigarette advertisements, though ACSH s study found that such ads have been greatly curtailed under the Master Settlement Agreement between 46 state governments and the tobacco industry.

Redbook, Vogue, and Harper's Bazaar had the fewest anti-smoking messages. Self, Prevention, and Woman's Day carried the greatest number of anti-smoking messages. "Magazines are not obligated to report the risks of smoking, but they do a disservice to their readers by failing to cover the topic," said Dr. Gilbert Ross, Medical and Executive Director of ACSH.

Cigarette smoking is estimated to cause over 440,000 deaths annually in the U.S. Lung cancer has been the leading cause of death by cancer among women since 1987, with women's death rate from lung cancer up 600% since 1950, correlated with increased smoking rates. Those statistics are rarely addressed even in women s magazines that frequently report on health topics. The magazines sometimes even make unscientific claims, such as asserting that vitamins can ward off lung cancer.

"This new ACSH survey shows considerable improvement has occurred in the reporting on smoking," says ACSH president Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, "but there's a lot more progress to be made."