In 1999, a public vow to exclude cigarette marketing was made by over a dozen major publishers, including The New York Times.

The action was a part of a larger campaign to reduce the power of a business whose goods, according to the CDC, were the greatest cause of avoidable deaths in the country at the time and still are.

However, interviews, information from Nielsen Ad Intel, documents from the Truth Initiative, and the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Semafor, Politico, and The Boston Globe are just a few of the well-known publishers that have published tobacco company-funded advertisements since 2020.

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The advertisements include display media and sponsorships of podcasts and newsletters. Some take the form of corporate advocacy campaigns, in which tobacco company executives submit essays that are published as branded advertorials by news publications. Furthermore, according to Barbara Schillo, chief research officer at Truth Initiative, the advertisements assist repair the reputation of the corporations that produce cigarettes even though none of them advertise particular goods.

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According to Schillo, “the tobacco industry is coming out of the shadows to mount a campaign to improve its image with these paid advertorials.” “Anything that gives these companies legitimacy is not in the public health interest,” the statement reads. “These ads give these companies legitimacy.”

Although there is no law prohibiting publishers from collaborating with tobacco companies, the topic raises questions about how news publishers should finance their operations and how closely that money should be scrutinized, particularly during a recession.

According to Jamie MacEwan, senior media analyst at Enders Analysis, “publishers should be urgently reviewing their moral compass when it comes to sensitive categories, even though it isn’t practical to refuse to run ads for anything that might have a degree of harm.”

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The Wall Street Journal, Politico, Boston Globe, and New York Times representatives all stated that the advertisements do not go against their policies about not endorsing tobacco goods. In response to requests for comment, Semafor and The Washington Post either did not reply or declined to comment.

Currently, tobacco advertising
Over the past ten years, tobacco firms have occasionally collaborated with certain publishers, like Vice Media, on advertisements. But in 2020, the industry made a determined effort in collaboration with high-end news sources, claims Schillo.

According to Nielsen Ad Intel, a database that tracks corporate ad spend, the tobacco companies Philip Morris International, which owns cigarette brands like Marlboro and Parliament, and Altria spent $11.72 million on media between January 2020 and August 2021, mostly on news publishers and digital video.

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A spokesman for PMI, Corey Henry, stated, “Our goal is to inform key opinion leaders of our mission to achieve a science-based smoke-free future.”

While it can be difficult to catalog tobacco advertisements due to their transient nature, branded advertorials from publications like Politico, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The Boston Globe leave digital traces.

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According to documents provided to Adweek, the Times, Post, Journal, and Politico all aired at least one of these advertisements between 2020 and 2022. The NGO CommonWealth has reported that The Boston Globe has published at least 40.

Tobacco industry officials write writings for some of these initiatives, emphasizing the objectivity of science. Some merely draw attention to scientific advances.

According to Schillo, they do this to validate research that has been supported by Altria and PMI and that bolsters their assertions that vaping and other smokeless cigarettes are healthier than traditional cigarettes. According to Schillo, the method is intended to cast uncertainty on an otherwise clear-cut topic and is a practice employed by the tobacco and petroleum industries to impede regulation efforts.

Some advertisements are not as nuanced.


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