Study claims tobacco ads still target kids
CHICAGO, March 12 (UPI) -- University of Chicago researchers issued a report Tuesday that said a review of magazine advertisements suggests tobacco companies continue to direct cigarette ads at school kids, a practice that violates a 1998 settlement agree
The agreement -- the Master Settlement Agreement or MSA -- settled the multi-billion dollar civil suit brought by state attorneys general against the tobacco companies. The MSA specifically bans youth targeted advertising, but Paul Chung and Craig Garfield said their study indicates the tobacco companies have learned how to "appear to comply" with the MSA, while continuing ads directed at underage smokers.
The study is available in the March/April issue of Health Affairs.
Chung and Garfield charge that by gaming the system the tobacco companies are actually doing more youth targeted advertising now than they did before they signed the MSA. The finding suggests a complete failure of the youth advertising ban, they said.
In interviews with United Press International, representatives of the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. of Louisville, Ky., Philip Morris US in New York and RJ Reynolds of Winston-Salem, N.C. all denied the allegations.
Mark Smith of Brown & Williamson said the study was an example of "politicking not science." He said his company does "not market to kids. We don't and I'm tired of people parading around and making these accusations."
Smith and other tobacco company representatives said the companies adhere to both the letter and spirit of the MSA agreement.
Both Chung and Garfield told UPI the companies may be doing just that, but the agreement does not spell out a definition of youth magazines so tobacco companies are using a standard offered by the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA defines a youth oriented magazine as one which has more than 2 million readers under age 18 -- People and Sports Illustrated are in this category -- or one in which more than 15 percent of readers are age 18 or younger, such as Allure or Hot Rod.
Using the FDA definition, tobacco companies could still "target" magazines with fewer than 2 million youth readers or magazines that fall below the 15 percent threshold. For example, Glamour has 1.9 million readers aged 12 to 17, the researchers said.
The bottom line, said Chung, is that eliminating youth-targeted tobacco ads might be impossible without a complete ban on print advertising.
"This is what was done with TV and radio ads," he said.
Tom Ryan, spokesman for Phillip Morris US, said the researchers might simply be basing their findings on old data. Chung and Garfield used magazine advertising from 1997 through 2000.
Ryan said his company has cut back on ads every year since 1998 and voluntarily agreed to even more restrictions on magazine advertising in an agreement announced in June 2000.
"If they looked at data from 2001, the authors may have reached a different conclusion," Ryan said.
David Howard of RJ Reynolds said his company advertised in no magazine in which less than 75 percent of the readers are adults. That standard, he said, is more restrictive than standards used by the liquor industry.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded the study.