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Anti-Smoking Survey Trashes Top Women's Magazines

Fewer than 1% of articles talk about the dangers, health watchdog group says

FRIDAY, Sept. 21, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Although women's magazines publish lots of articles about health, they're just giving lip service to the dangers of smoking, a survey by a health watchdog group says.

The publications pose as advocates of healthy lifestyles while they continue to accept and publish cigarette advertising, according to the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). And the magazines are failing their readers by short-shrifting coverage on lung cancer and the health consequences of cigarettes, the group says.

"You would not know that tobacco is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in women from reading these magazines," says Jeff Stier, a spokesman for ACSH. "We have found over the years -- and you'll see nothing new in our latest survey -- that women's magazines are very heavy on health stories on how to avoid a heart attack, or how to avoid breast cancer. But the majority of these magazines do not do a good enough job placing emphasis on the health risks of smoking, and we'd like to see them do a much better job."

Study author Catherine Maroney, then ACSH's assistant director of public health, employed a panel of 11 researchers and doctors to evaluate 12 women's magazines: Cosmopolitan, Elle, Family Circle, Glamour, Harper's Bazaar, Ladies' Home Journal, Mademoiselle, McCall's, Redbook, Self, Vogue, and Woman's Day.

The panel determined the quality, quantity, and nature of the magazines' health-related messages. The reviewers looked at the magazine's acceptance of tobacco advertising, pictures portraying smoking or cigarettes, and their coverage of health problems associated with smoking, especially lung cancer.

Fewer than 1 percent of the health-related articles published in those magazines between August 1999 and August 2000 had an anti-smoking theme, the survey shows. Of the 2,414 published health articles, only 214 were about the health effects of tobacco. Only three articles during that period of time discussed lung cancer. During the same period, there was an average of 4.5 cigarette ads for every issue, and only four of the 12 magazines published anti-tobacco ads.

The findings from the survey were published last month.

"Talking about cigarettes and tobacco may not be a sexy issue for these magazines, but if they are going to be magazines that present issues on women's health, they can't continue to give short shrift to this issue," Stier insists. "We'd like them to focus on the full range of the health effects of smoking. Women know about cancer and heart disease, but do they know -- from head to toe -- what smoking can do to them?"

About 22 million adult women currently are smokers and more than 140,000 women die each year from smoking-related diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And although breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in American women, lung cancer kills more women than any other cancer. Between 1960 and 1996, deaths from lung cancer among women increased by more than 400 percent -- outpacing breast cancer deaths every year since the mid-1980s.

The survey zeroes in specifically on Vogue for its lack of an anti-smoking message. "The survey found that over half of the issues of Vogue included pictures of models or famous people smoking," Stier says. The magazine failed to publish any anti-smoking stories in any of its issues during the survey period and included only three anti-smoking mentions, he adds.

The magazine denies the charge.

"Our editorial policy at Vogue is definitely to discourage cigarette smoking," says Patrick O'Connell, a magazine spokesman. "But our editorial philosophy is that to read an article on the dangers of smoking from beginning to end every couple of months is no more realistic than it is to expect women to read through an entire anti-smoking pamphlet."

O'Connell says Vogue isn't a "service" magazine.

"We report on trends and developments," he says. "We report on trends in addiction or if there was anything new about nicotine or smoking, but our focus is not on what we call service copy. Some magazines are much more apt to do reader service articles, and that's just not our goal.

"We really do address issues of smoking, and we will always work to carry anti-smoking messages as much as we can in our health-related stories -- most importantly in a way that will be packaged and in a way that will be read, not just buried in some copy," OConnell continues. "In the past two years, we've published seven articles in which smoking was cast in a negative light and was characterized as unhealthy. What number of stories would ACSH propose is the appropriate number of stories with an anti-smoking message?"

An unconvinced Steir says the magazines ought to "clean up their act."

What To Do: If you're interested in reading the survey report, see the American Council on Science and Health. And for more information on women and smoking, visit the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

SOURCES: Interviews with Jeff Stier, spokesman, American Council on Science and Health, New York; Jeff O'Connell, spokesman, Vogue magazine, New York; Tobacco and Women's Health: A Survey of Popular Women's Magazines
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