As part of a settlement with the states in 1998, the biggest tobacco companies said they would stop advertising in magazines with significant numbers of young readers. Three years later, that promise is largely unfulfilled.
Ads from three of the four major tobacco companies continue to appear in magazines like Rolling Stone, People, Entertainment Weekly, Sports Illustrated and TV Guide.
Rolling Stone's latest issue features the young female stars of "American Pie 2" on the cover, as well as articles about kung fu movies and rap music. It also contains advertisements for Winston and Camel cigarettes. The Winston ad is a two- page spread near the front of the magazine.
Three of the four biggest tobacco companies - R. J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard - say they continue such advertising because the limits they agreed to in 1998 were only guidelines, not laws. By contrast, Philip Morris, the largest tobacco company, has followed the guidelines. A year ago, it stopped advertising in 50 magazines with young readers.
Bill Lockyer, the attorney general of California who participated in the settlement three years ago, disputed the tobacco companies' version.
In the 1998 settlement, the tobacco companies signed on to follow guidelines agreed to by most of the 46 attorneys general involved in the suit: that cigarette advertisements not appear in magazines if more than 15 percent of the readers are under 18, or if more than two million of the readers are under 18.
Mr. Lockyer said the companies were violating what they had pledged in writing. According to the agreement, the companies promised never to "take any action directly or indirectly to target youth" in the "advertising, promotion or marketing of tobacco products." He is suing R. J. Reynolds over it.
"R. J. Reynolds and other companies agreed not to market to kids, and based on our surveys, they still are," he said.
Mr. Lockyer says that based on his research, Americans age 12 to 17 will be exposed to at least 50 cigarette ads in magazines each year. He adds that the tobacco companies have a compelling reason to violate the settlement.
"They kill their customers every year," he said, "and they need to recruit new ones."
Two forms of research that became available for the first time only last spring make it clearer how many young magazine readers there are. Spurred in part by the issue of tobacco advertising, Mediamark Research and the Simmons Market Research Bureau have in recent months begun to release specific data on readers 12 to 18.
For example, People magazine would fall under the settlement terms because it has 2.7 million readers under 18, according to numbers from Simmons. But the latest issue of People carries a two-page ad for Newports, a product of Lorillard.
Sports Illustrated has 4.9 million readers under 18, according to data from Mediamark. But the magazine still carries ads for Camel cigarettes, which are made by R. J. Reynolds, and other brands.
The magazine reaped close to $40 million in ad revenue from tobacco ads last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting, a organization that monitors magazine advertising.
And 23 percent of Rolling Stone's readers are under 18, according to both the Simmons Teen Survey and the Simmons National Consumer Survey. But Rolling Stone still carries ads for R. J. Reynolds brands in practically every issue. And a Rolling Stone executive expects to double the number of Reynolds ads next year. Rolling Stone also carries Brown & Williamson ads.
True, the child-friendly Joe Camel - rendered illegal by the settlement - no longer appears in Rolling Stone. But it is not rare to find teenage favorites on the cover, like Sarah Michelle Gellar, the star of the TV show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and an ad for Kool, a product of Brown & Williamson, on the back.
A study to be released by The New England Journal of Medicine today reports that the settlement appears to have had little effect on cigarette advertising in magazines and on the exposure of young people to those advertisements.
Of the four tobacco companies, R. J. Reynolds has the broadest view of what constitutes an adult magazine. It is so broad that in March, Mr. Lockyer, the attorney general of California, sued the company, accusing it of having "continuously and systematically targeted youth" by placing large numbers of cigarette ads in magazines with a substantial teenage readership. The attorneys general of Oregon, New York, Ohio and Washington joined the lawsuit. A date for the trial is expected to be set on Friday.
Jan Smith, a spokeswoman for R. J. Reynolds, said it had chosen to follow a standard different from that promoted by the attorneys general.
"We do not advertise in magazines that target minors," she said. "We only advertise in magazines that are read by adults." She said that in order to accept R. J. Reynolds advertising, less than 25 percent of a magazine's readership must be under 18, or if that information is not available, the median age of the magazine's readers ought to be 23.
She said Reynolds also looked at the editorial content of the magazine and considered the presence of other advertisers - for example, for cars or liquor - to gauge whether it was truly a publication for adults.
Ms. Smith said the tobacco industry should be held to a similar standard as the liquor industry, which has been praised by the Federal Trade Commission for following voluntary restrictions that, according to a 1999 F.T.C. report, restrict advertising to magazines that can show that 60 to 70 percent of their readers are of legal drinking age.
"Isn't it ironic that a 60 or 70 percent standard gets a big pat on the back, yet our standard is higher than that?" she said.
Steve Kottak, a spokesman for Brown & Williamson, said it intended to market only to adults and did not advertise in magazines with readerships of more than 15 percent under 18. But he said the company did not follow the guideline that it not advertise in magazines with more than two million readers under 18.
"The purpose of our advertising is to encourage adult smokers to choose our brand," Mr. Kottak said. "The intended audience is 21 years or older. We select publications on that basis. We also follow the recommendation of the National Association of Attorneys General in advertising in magazines with under-18 readership no greater than 15 percent."
But Mr. Kottak added that the company did advertise in magazines with more than two million readers under 18.
A spokesman for Lorillard, Steve Watson, said that after discussions with the attorneys general last year, it withdrew its ads from Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated.
He said the company made a responsible effort to aim only at adult audiences, but had also overlooked the two-million-reader rule. According to data from Mediamark, TV Guide has over five million readers under 18.
"We are making a responsible effort to target only adult audiences," Mr. Watson said. "We will look at new research as it comes in."
Magazine publishers said they were comfortable with the tobacco ads. The publisher of People, Peter Bauer, said in a statement that magazines were not legally restrained from accepting tobacco ads and that the guidelines applied to the tobacco companies, which could choose to follow them or not.
"People is primarily written for 36 million adults who are mature enough to make informed decisions regarding the purchase of the legal products advertised in our pages," he said.
Robert F. Gregory, publisher of Rolling Stone, said he had no comment.
Michael Rooney, publisher of ESPN magazine, said that he did not have qualms about accepting ads from Brown & Williamson and R. J. Reynolds even though the magazine did have a large teenage readership. "I think we do our job and they do theirs," he said.
Some publications refuse cigarette ads. The New York Times stopped accepting cigarette ads on May 1, 1999; at that time, at least a dozen other American newspapers also rejected them.
Ms. Smith of R. J. Reynolds said there was only one way to assure that underage readers would never be exposed to tobacco ads in magazines.
"That would be to ban all cigarette advertising in magazines," she said. "And that was not the intent of the settlement agreement. We never agreed to that."
Alex Kuczynski, The New York Times. August 15, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.