cigarette companies are advertising again

July 19, 2008 ·

in 1997, the tobacco act was passed in canada, regulating, in part, the 'promotion' of cigarettes through media vehicles. in section 22, the act stipulates guidelines by which tobacco companies can promote their products:

  • in publications delivered directly to an identified adult through the mail, or that have known adult readership of not less than 85%
  • in places where young people aren't permitted by law, such as bars
  • by highlighting actual brand characteristics or by providing factual information about the characteristics, availability or price of the product
it also stipulates what tobacco companies can not do in their promotion:
  • use lifestyle advertising featuring glamor, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring, or other associations that might appeal to young persons
  • depict (in whole or in part) any tobacco product, or it's package or brand - or even any imagery that might evoke a product or brand
  • sponsor youth oriented activities or events
  • include the name of a tobacco product or manufacturer as part of the name of a permanent sports or cultural facility
so contrary to popular belief (i thought so as well), cigarette advertising isn't banned or illegal, just very difficult to do. but eleven years from this statue being enacted, cigarette companies have started to become active in advertising again.

i'd first seen these ads a few months ago, but wrote them off as anti-smoking ads by the government or some other agency dedicated to their elimination. you see, the ads were very simplistic and stripped down, nothing like the glory days of the marlboro man or joe camel. also, the ads seemed too generic and with such minimal branding, it looked to me like whoever was making the anti-smoking ads made the brand up because i don't know any of the cigarette brands featured (maybe because they aren't advertised and i don't smoke).

however, upon closer inspection, they are indeed cigarette ads. so far, i've noticed the ads in two magazines, and i feel the need to point out who they are: toronto life and time magazine. the reason i think they need pointing out (and if there were others, i'd point those out too) is a failing to their readership, and to their editorial dignity.

advertisements serve two purposes: 1)a revenue stream and 2)service and inform readers with appropriate and relevant ads. publications who run cigarette ads have failed their readers by doing so. they have sullied their pages to make money at the expense of their readership's health. their corporate citizenship is now staked on the irresponsibility of running advertisements for harmful products. in a time when pr means more than ever, magazines pandering to cigarette companies is a mistake waiting to be apologized for.

just because tobacco advertising isn't illegal, doesn't mean a magazine has to now run them. the law heavily restricted them in the first place with good reason. it was something everyone but cigarette manufacturers were behind and though we can advertise them, doesn't mean the underlying impetus behind it is lost or any less of a problem. a conscientious decision should be made factoring in all the negativity involved with no upside beyond revenue. but what does that translate to in your brand's perception?

shame on toronto life and other magazines who have accepted these ads to run. where is their moral compass pointing? are the readers better serviced because they can see cigarette ads? does this enhance their magazine and make it a better product? on the contrary. it points out that they are clearly on the side of making money above integrity, regardless of the source. are they that hard-up for money? they've survived for years without the tobacco revenue stream.

in the specific case of toronto life, who is supposed to be representative of this fair city and its denizens (albeit the upper class ones mainly), advertising cigarettes is in no way reflective of the community which has taken such severe measures to ban smoking to the level it has.

both magazines adhere to the 85% adult readership rule. still 15% (and likely higher) are kids and underage people who are going to be influenced by these ads. even if one started as a result, isn't that one too many? similarly with lapsed smokers, this doesn't help them stay smoke free. it only makes smoking seem more acceptable or legitimate since it's being advertised.

i realize the debate will always exist as to why cigarette ads are any different than say alcohol ads or fast food ones. it's a semi-valid stance if you ask me. while both those have their negative effects, they aren't unto themselves deadly (save for the few but very extreme cases where both used in such quantity and duration as to wreak havoc close to that of cigarettes). moderate intake of alcoholic beverages (namely wine, but beer as well) have proven to be beneficial and reasonable consumption of fast food is easily mitigated by activity and balanced diet otherwise. there is no mitigating cigarettes.

i don't want to lose sight that tobacco companies are any less in the wrong. after all, it was them who decided they wanted to start advertising again and whose money is fueling the morally inept decisions to run their ads. let us not forget the other culprit in this matter, the canadian government and provincial governments. for it is doing by not wholly banning cigarette advertising or cigarettes in general. again, money is at play as billions (nearly $7.1 billion in gov't fiscal year ending '06) are put into the government coffers from tobacco taxes. that's pretty substantial and i don't know how we would compensate for that otherwise, but the future medical needs of these people will certainly drain the government of more than the taxes levied on tobacco brought in. it's about making the tough and unpopular choices i guess.

i get that businesses exist to make money and magazines are no different. so where do we draw the line? is cigarettes that line? there is no upside to cigarettes. we wouldn't advertise and sell a cereal made of glass shards would we? i'd think a magazine would have a problem running that ad. what's the difference with cigarettes?

so what say you? have i taken an extreme moral high ground? is this not an issue?




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