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Researchers Find Tobacco Company Publications "Powerful Tool" to Mobilize Smokers' Support


November 1995

In a content analysis of smokers' magazines, researchers from the University of California at San Francisco have found that tobacco companies use the publications to counter medical information about the harms of smoking and to encourage political action (M. Teresa Cardador, MPH, Anna R. Hazan, PhD, and Stanton A. Glantz, PhD, "Tobacco Industry Smokers' Rights Publications: A Content Analysis," American Journal of Public Health, September 1995, p. 1212-1217).

The researchers analyzed the themes in smokers' magazines published by tobacco companies between 1986 and 1992. They found that the number of issues published by the companies increased from 13 in 1987 to 30 in 1992, possibly reflecting increasing anti-smoking pressure on the federal and state level.

Smokers' magazines arose out of the "smokers' rights movement" in 1976. "The publication will deal with the so-called public smoking issue, the latest tactic by anti-smoking groups in their effort to do irreparable damage to the tobacco industry," said R.J. Reynolds Chairman William Hobbs, speaking to The Tobacco Reporter, a tobacco trade publication, in 1976. Yet it was not until 1987 that the company published Choice to counter anti-smoking claims about the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke and to urge political action to thwart anti-tobacco legislation.

Tobacco trade publications and magazines not affiliated with a tobacco company were excluded from the content analysis. Some of the currently-published smokers' magazines include American Smokers Journal and Smokers' Advocate, which are distributed by Philip Morris, and R.J. Reynolds' Choice. The publications are distributed to smokers (and some nonsmokers) through direct mailing lists.

The researchers found that the most persistent theme in the publications was that of encouraging political and social action. Appeals for political action greatly increased between 1987 and 1992, with the greatest number of such mentions occurring between 1990 and 1992.

Attacks on tobacco control groups and anti-tobacco government officials and agencies was the second most common theme. In this category, the publications sought to discredit medical studies and evidence, often through personal attacks on anti-tobacco advocates. Other common themes in the publications were discussions of the threats to personal smoking freedom, smoker discrimination, and tobacco company support of smokers and financial support of social events.

The authors concluded that tobacco companies use the publications to mobilize and solidify support from smokers. The publications both attempt to refute medical evidence and divert attention to attacks on the personal freedom of smokers:

These publications are like advertising but are potentially more powerful: they present concrete messages, personal stories, and examples that are all designed to maintain uncertainty and controversy about the health effects of active and passive smoking, ensure that awareness remains vague and general, and minimize concern on the part of smokers, thus making it easier for them to deny the dangerous effects (to themselves and others) of their behavior.