Attorney general of Pennsylvania, Mike Fisher, announced Monday that four major tobacco companies will withdraw their advertisements from magazines that have wide circulation in middle and high schools. While it is commendable that these advertisements are being pulled, it is suspicious that they were present at all. The tobacco companies, as well as the advertising and publishing companies responsible for running the ads, should be held accountable for exposing minors to tobacco advertising.
The tobacco companies of Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp. and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company have all agreed to remove their tobacco ads from secondary school editions of magazines. These magazines include Time Classroom, Newsweek Education Program and U.S. News Classroom Extension Program. This comes after they placed 120 ads throughout the past 17 months in those three magazines.
According to Newswire, about 300,000 copies of Newsweek are distributed to classrooms in the United States. Each of these copies is read by an average of 3.5 students, with an estimated readership of more than 1 million students per week.
What comes as a shock is that for nearly 75 weeks millions of students as well as faculty from these schools have been subjected to these ads and only recently has anything been done about it.
Philip Morris USA Co. told the Dow Jones Newswires that it does not advertise in magazines that are geared toward young readers. But how could their elite advertising departments overlook the one million middle and high school students who would see the dozens of ads that their company was producing?
Tobacco companies, which have been under attack lately for suspiciously gearing their advertising to minors, don’t seem to be doing much to sway public opinion. While the national tobacco settlement agreement prohibits the marketing of tobacco products to minors, it should also be noted that once these companies were notified about this discrepancy they were quick to subject their ads to what is known as “selective binding.” This action allows advertisers to place ads in some copies of the magazines while excluding them from others.
While the proper authorities were lax in the attention that they were giving to tobacco advertisements, these four major tobacco companies were able to advertise their product to millions of minors in schools across the United States. Since the weight of public opinion has weighed heavily against big tobacco in recent years, the watchdogs should not become complacent and forget to keep a keen eye on these companies, and the advertising companies for that matter. Especially as they have just shown that they still cannot be trusted.