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Decent. As American as motherhood and apple pie. That's how one could view Good Housekeeping, the leading women's home and family oriented monthly magazine of good, sensible, responsible articles and advice about the whole range of issues facing modern American families. Even the title sounds like something that you might have found, probably near the family bible, inside the bare but clean front room of every decent settler's home.
At the front of the November 2000 edition, beside a photograph of the editor, was a trailer for what was rightly billed as “a groundbreaking story about women and lung cancer that you're unlikely to read elsewhere”. It began: “In December 1952,Good Housekeeping stopped accepting ads for cigarettes and tobacco products. At the time, research was just beginning to emerge about the link between smoking and lung cancer, and the editors believed that advertisements for a potentially harmful product were inconsistent with the magazine's consumer safety policy. That decision, almost 50 years ago, puts us in a unique position to report...” (the groundbreaking story).
Flip through the pages of Good Housekeepingas long as you like, and you will certainly not see a cigarette advertisement. But turn to page 76 in the November edition and there you will find a full page colour ad from Philip Morris. It is a classic example of the insidious new tobacco industry campaign to persuade us that they have changed, and really do not want children to smoke. It is classic in that it focuses on the parent's authority to teach their children how to behave. And it is classic, too, in that while buying credibility and spreading dissent among some of the industry's traditional adversaries, it nicely conveys the forbidden fruit image that complements traditional cigarette promotion. The boring, authoritarian “smoking is adult” theme must be a handy softener for the “smoking is cool” message so carefully orchestrated through the image management of fashion models, pop stars and Formula One drivers sponsored by cigarette companies.
How can the perfidy of the industry's new strategy be explained to obviously responsible and well meaning institutions such asGood Housekeeping? Perhaps a start would be for a major education plan to tell them how the industry has been planning its rehabilitation for quite some time. While health advocates were still fooling themselves that after what came out in the Minnesota documents, not even tobacco executives would ever again pretend to be anything other than scheming liars and fixers of bogus research, they were busy panning the next chapter.
In 1991, a Tobacco Institute discussion paper on the industry's youth programme set out a “fairly simple” strategy:
- Heavily promote industry opposition to youth smoking.
- Align industry with broader, more sophisticated view of the problem—that is, parental inability to offset peer pressure.
- Work with and through credible child welfare professionals and educators to tackle the “problem”.
- Bait anti-tobacco forces to criticise industry efforts.
The Good Housekeeping ad neatly exemplifies 1 and 2, and may possibly lead to 3. By writing about it this way,Tobacco Control may, as the industry sees it, be falling headlong into 4—unless major public health efforts go into getting the wider world to see what is really going on.