By: David Noack
Tobacco ads smoked
Newspapers kicking the habit across the country
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin has become the latest newspaper to ban tobacco advertising.
The decision came about a month after The New York Times announced that it would no longer accept cigarette advertising, effective May 1. The Times’ decision affects only the flagship newspaper and not its other newspaper properties, such as The Boston Globe or regional newspapers.
These are just two of the latest newspapers to banish tobacco advertising. Others include The Christian Science Monitor, based in Boston; The Deseret News of Salt Lake City; The Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; and three in Washington, the Seattle Times, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, and Yakima Herald-Republic.
In March, the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram also joined the tobacco ad ban. They are allowing a six-month phaseout to honor existing contracts. In addition, they also asked Parade Publications Inc. to provide a tobacco ad-free magazine, which will begin on Jan. 1, 2000.
Liz Manigan, Parade vice president and promotions director, says that since 1994 the edition for the Seattle Times has also been tobacco ad-free.
She says The Times Leader in Pennsylvania did contact Parade about tobacco ads, but did not press the issue, and tobacco ads still appear in its edition of the Sunday magazine.
Honolulu Star-Bulletin publisher John Flanagan says the decision to ban tobacco ads was not made in response to the Times’ action, but was an issue that had recently been debated.
What prompted this debate was a reaction by readers, many of whom support the right to bear arms, challenging the newspaper’s advocacy of gun restrictions. They argued that, when used properly, guns are safe, but that tobacco products, when used as intended, cause illness.
It was right after this challenge that the newspaper ran two full-page color cigarette ads that appeared in the paper over the last couple of weeks. The flap resulted in a re-examination of the advertising acceptance policy.
“There had been little tobacco advertising in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin during the six years since our newspaper’s ownership changed, and I became publisher. Until two or three weeks ago, the issue of accepting it had not come up,” says Flanagan.
He says the financial impact will be negligible since the paper gets few tobacco advertisements.
In a Star-Bulletin article on May 26 announcing the change, Flanagan says smoking has been banned in the workplace, government offices, and even public places, and that the courts and government agencies have recognized the public health effects of smoking.
“In light of the [U.S.] surgeon general’s report linking tobacco use and disease, recent litigation, testimony, and court decisions, and the $206-billion tobacco settlement ? involving 46 states including Hawaii ? it was clear to us that to continue to accept tobacco advertising was not a responsible course of action,” says Flanagan in an e-mail message.
Steve Kottak, a spokesman for Brown & Williamson, says the newspaper’s policy reduces communications to adult consumers.
“This will deny information to consumers who have a right to this information,” says Kottak.
The Star-Bulletin is an afternoon paper with a circulation of 70,000. It is a signatory to a joint operating agreement (JOA) with The Honolulu Advertiser, a Gannett Co. Inc. morning newspaper. The Hawaii Newspaper Agency handles business operations.
Hawaii Newspaper Agency president and Honolulu Advertiser publisher Mike Fisch is quoted in the Star-Bulletin as saying that under the JOA, each publisher has the right to set guidelines for acceptable advertising.
“We certainly respect John’s right to make that determination,” Fisch is quoted as saying.
Since 1994, tobacco advertising in newspapers has fallen by about half, from $21 million to $11 million a year. But over the same period, tobacco-company spending in magazines has jumped 18% to almost $325 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting, which tracks ad spending.
Charles Cochrane, publisher and chief executive officer of Blethen Maine Newspapers, says reasons for banning tobacco ads include the industry’s efforts to target children, despite government regulations; community support for smoking bans in restaurants; and state legislation enforcing those bans.
“There is certainly a mood in Maine and among the people to control tobacco use, and a lot of concern about tobacco use by kids,” says Cochrane.
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