Women's Magazines Won't Bite the Hands That Feed Them


This article originally appeared in Issue# 54-55

Ever wonder why you see few articles in women's magazines on the dangers of smoking and alcohol? As reported in the Wellness Letter, a study by Lauren Kessler of the University of Oregon, published in Journalism Quarterly, surveyed six large-circulation women's magazines that also regularly report on women's health issues: Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Mademoiselle, McCall's, Woman's Day and Ms. (Ms. has recently been redesigned to carry no ads, so the Kessler findings apply only to the old magazine.)

All these magazines except Good Housekeeping ran cigarette ads. In the five years from 1983 to 1987, not one of them published any full-length feature, column, review or editorial on any aspect of the dangers of smoking. During this same five-year period, lung cancer surpassed breast cancer as the number-one cancer killer of women: Not one of these magazines mentioned it. (Kessler found 34 articles about breast cancer but none on lung cancer.) Three of the magazines occasionally published a 50-to-100-word news brief on the subject of smoking, but never referred to lung cancer, heart disease or the risks of smoking while pregnant. Instead they ran articles on such exotic conditions as narcolepsy, Guillain-Barre syndrome and sleepwalking. Cosmopolitan and McCall's actually published short items associating smoking positively with weight control.

Watch the magazines you read for their treatment of smoking and alcohol issues.


More on this topic can be found in Gender, Race and Class in Media. (#1032) Look for Gloria Steinem's classic confessional article about Ms. Magazine's struggle over cigarette advertising: "Sex, Lies and Advertising"