Exploring Human Potential

Smoking Out the Ad Industry

Posted on | June 22, 2009 | No Comments

Money Talks

Last week, after decades of fighting dating back to FDA Commissioner David Kessler’s valiant attempts, the FDA was finally granted authority to regulate tobacco. Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which President Obama is now expected to sign into law.1,2 This landmark legislation controls elements of manufacturing, marketing, and advertisement of tobacco products. Specifically, it requires counter advertising on cigarette packages, bans giveaways of non-tobacco items (like sports paraphernalia) with the purchase of tobacco, and prohibits outdoor tobacco ads within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.3

Even though some tobacco giants were supportive of the legislation, one industry is still fully engaged in the battle: the ANA, or the Association of National Advertisers.4 Their top gun, Dan Jaffe, says that this is "the most restrictive advertising bill ever passed in the US for a legal product".

The bill hits the magazine industry especially hard at a particularly critical moment. Ad spending overall in magazines dropped 21% in the first quarter of 2009. That figure still included tobacco advertising. Tobacco companies spent about 78 million last year on advertising in the US. Of that, 69 million went to magazines. The majority of the money- nine million- went to advertising in Maxim, followed by 8 million to Playboy, and about 4 million each to Men’s Journal, Field and Stream, and Sports Illustrated.5

About 30 years ago, the US banned TV and radio commercials for tobacco. Money was shunted over to magazines and billboards. But in 2000, after an uproar over ads in magazines read by kids, the tobacco industry cut back on magazines and beefed up other promotions. With this new legislation, magazines with a significant readership of individuals under 18 will only be allowed to run "tombstone" ads for tobacco; that is ads with black and white text only. Even if the tobacco companies decide to continue these, the revenue magazines generate for these ads will be far less then traditional print ads.3

Why is the ANA drawing a line in the sand here, arguing that the new law would violate free speech? Because they correctly believe this could open the floodgates for other restrictions on advertising poor health behavior for unhealthy food and beverages. But here’s the truth: If we really want a better health care system, and improved health in America, we have to change our behaviors, not just our media. The easiest and most efficient way to do that is to stop spending money to convince people to do things that we already know will make them sick.

For Health Commentary. I’m Mike Magee


1. Layton L. Senate Approves Bill to Allow FDA to Regulate Tobacco. Washington Post. 12 June 2009.

2. Silberner J. Bill Gives FDA Control Over Tobacco. NPR. 10 June 2009.

3. Mundy A, Etter L. Senate Passes FDA Tobacco Bill. WSJ ONline. 12 June 2009.

4. ANA. Tobacco Legislation Passes House, and Now Moves on to the Senate. 31 July 2008.

5. Vranica S, Adams R. An Industry Fights Tobacco Bill. Wall Street Journal, B8. 18 June 2009. 


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