Sunday, March 06, 2005

American Legacy Foundation Honors Top Tobacco Ad Publisher

At a $500-per-plate fundraiser at Cipriani's in Manhattan on Feb. 28, the American Legacy Foundation honored Time Inc. for "reaching millions with an anti-tobacco message." The dinner invitation page that describes Time Inc.'s qualifications for receiving Legacy's Progress in Media Award features pictures of five Time Inc. magazines: Real Simple, Health, Baby Talk, Cooking Light, and Parenting. According to the dinner invitation, the Legacy Foundation is "gratified that a selection of Time, Inc.’s magazines ... do not accept any tobacco product advertising.”

The invitation for this black-tie gala affair also noted that “Another Time Warner division, Warner Bros., is involved with the foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation on the ‘Hollywood Quits’ initiative, a smoking cessation program aimed at members of the entertainment industry.” As the American Legacy Foundation’s funds to continue its truth® youth anti-smoking media campaign have been depleted, it has courted sponsors outside of the tobacco industry. Legacy’s website lists media giant Time Warner among its new corporate partners, whom it describes as “leaders in this important movement.”

The Rest of the Story

While Time Inc.'s adult-oriented magazines like Baby Talk and Parenting may not take tobacco ads, its publications that reach enormous youth audiences expose millions of adolescents to large numbers of cigarette and smokeless tobacco ads each week. According to a March 4 article in The Cancer Letter, the more than 125 Time Inc. magazines not pictured on the Legacy Honors invitation all accept tobacco advertising, with the five magazines pictured being the only ones that do not.

The truth is that Time Inc. exposes millions of teenage readers to tobacco ads each week. Last year alone, four Time Inc. magazines (TIME, Entertainment Weekly, People, and Sports Illustrated) combined to expose over 4 million adolescents to 219 tobacco ads, up from the 138 tobacco ads that these magazines carried in 2001. And in the first two months of this year, the 22 tobacco ads that appeared in these publications (including cigarette company promotional ads) exceeded the 14 tobacco ads during the same period last year.

The latest issue of TIME, which based on 2001 youth readership data from Mediamark Research Inc. (MRI) will reach approximately 1.4 million adolescents, contains a full-page advertisement for Camel cigarettes and two half-page ads for Skoal; Entertainment Weekly, which will reach approximately 1.8 million youths, contains a full-page Camel ad and two half-page Skoal ads; People Weekly will reach approximately 3.2 million adolescents and contains a full-page Camel ad; and the current Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, available on newstands now, which will reach approximately 3.7 million adolescents with its full-page ads for Camel and Kool cigarettes.

But there's even more to the story. Time Warner's movie corporation - Warner Bros. - has been criticized for contributing to youth smoking through its depiction of smoking in movies. Recent data published by the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education (March 9, 2004) indicate that Time Warner accounted for 25% of all tobacco impressions delivered to children and teenagers by first-run movies during the period 1999-2003. According to the testimony of Dr. Stanton Glantz before the Senate Commerce Committee (May 11, 2004), Time Warner causes 100,000 youths to start smoking annually due to its depiction of smoking in movies.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this story is not the American Legacy Foundation's award itself, but the hypocrisy that underlies it. The Foundation has criticized the promotion of cigarette smoking through magazine advertisements and tobacco depictions in the movies, having issued a report (December 11, 2003) which complains about young people’s exposure to “tobacco advertising in magazines” and “pro-tobacco messages through television and the movies.” But at the same time that the American Legacy Foundation bemoans the high exposure of youths to cigarette advertising in magazines and in movies, it rewards the very company largely responsible for these exposures. Furthermore, the Foundation has adopted a policy of not providing funds to anyone who receives support from “any tobacco manufacturer, distributor, or other tobacco-related entity” (from grant guidelines for the Foundation’s Small Innovative Grants Program). Thus, while it is not acceptable for any funded group to have any association with a tobacco-related entity, it is somehow acceptable for the Foundation, which is funded entirely by the tobacco companies, to partner with the leading tobacco ad publisher and the leading source of youth exposure to smoking in the movies.

The rest of the story reveals that the American Legacy Foundation has embarrassed the tobacco control community and has undermined years, if not decades of work by dedicated individuals and organizations to address the promotion of the nation's most deadly consumer product to youths through print advertising and the movies.

While the American Legacy Foundation was putting the nation's top tobacco ad publisher and leading source of youth exposure to smoking in first-run movies up on a pedestal (see pictures from the gala) at a fancy New York restaurant that boasts three kinds of caviar, "served with blinis, toast points, miniature baked potatoes, assorted garniture and half lemons in gauze," many of us in tobacco control were trying to figure out how we are going to recover from this undermining of years of work by public health practitioners in confronting the nation’s chief cause of preventable death.

UPDATE: See an excellent article on this topic by Rivka Weiser of the American Council on Science and Health.

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