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Tobacco Ads Retreat

Little by little, cigarette advertising is going up in smoke in American newspapers.

Last week the Boston Globe announced that it will no longer carry tobacco-related ads. With that laudable decision, the Globe joins other papers that give readers a tobacco-free advertising environment. These include The New York Times, San Jose Mercury News, Seattle Times, and Honolulu Star-Bulletin. The Christian Science Monitor does not carry ads for tobacco or alcohol.

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In announcing the Globe's new policy, publisher Richard Gilman said, "We can no longer justify carrying advertisements that promote a product when the harm it causes is so evident and is now acknowledged even by one of the tobacco companies."

That attitude now needs to extend to another media arena: women's magazines. With millions of young women among their readers, they remain an influential source of information, for better or worse.

This month Mademoiselle carries seven pages of cigarette ads. So does Glamour. Redbook features 10 pages. The list goes on. Publishers of women's magazines defend the ads on grounds that they bring in needed revenue. But Good Housekeeping, which accepts no ads for tobacco and alcohol, appears to prosper without them.

The presence of cigarette ads has another, more subtle effect on readers of women's magazines. Editors, afraid to bite the hand that feeds them, shy away from writing much about the risks of smoking. Given the amount of space they devote to other health issues, it is a startling omission.

Consider the demographics: Mademoiselle bills itself as a fashion and beauty magazine for "smart, career-oriented women in their 20s." In reality, many readers are teens and college students. Glamour describes itself as a magazine for "the contemporary American woman." Some of these women too are young.

As one measure of the power tobacco still holds over young people, more than a third of American high school seniors in 1998 reported that they had smoked within the previous month. That compares with fewer than 28 percent in 1992. More than a million children and teens start smoking each year. For women of childbearing age, the ramifications of the habit go beyond the smoker herself.

This Thursday, Nov. 18, marks the 23rd Great American Smokeout, a national event to encourage people to end their enslavement to tobacco. This year, perhaps the emphasis can go beyond individuals to include newspapers and magazines as well.

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It has been nearly 30 years since Congress banned cigarette advertising on radio and television. As these media outlets have proven, other sources of revenue exist that can add to the bottom line without endangering public well-being.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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