Now on Newsstands: Is it Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit or Tobacco Issue?

February 12, 2015

Tobacco companies claim they don’t market their products to kids, but their actions continue to show otherwise.

The latest example: Sports Illustrated’s just-published 2015 swimsuit issue, which contains an astounding seven ads for tobacco products. Amid the photos of curvaceous models in barely-there bikinis, there are two ads for cigarette brands (Natural American Spirit and Newport), three ads for the leading smokeless tobacco brands (Grizzly, Skoal and Copenhagen) and two ads for electronic cigarettes (MarkTen and blu).

All of these products are made by the nation’s largest tobacco companies – Altria, Reynolds American and Lorillard – and their subsidiaries. All three companies have long histories of marketing to kids, and all have been found by a federal judge to have done so.

These companies are no doubt aware that the average issue of Sports Illustrated has over 1.6 million teen readers (according to data from GfK MRI, a consumer research firm). And they surely know that the swimsuit issue is very popular with the magazine’s young male audience.

But that doesn’t stop these companies from placing ads that will reach this large teen audience. And it doesn’t stop Sports Illustrated from selling Big Tobacco the ad space.

As young readers browse through the magazine, they’ll get messages that cigarettes are fun, chewing tobacco makes you a real man and e-cigarettes are the cool new thing. Most of all, these ads mask the reality of deadly and addictive tobacco products by associating them with sex, glamour and sports, as the tobacco companies have long done.

Unfortunately, Sports Illustrated gives tobacco companies access to its youth readers on a weekly basis. 

The magazine’s Sportsman of the Year issue in December was another major offender, with five tobacco ads (two for smokeless tobacco, two for e-cigarettes and one for Newport cigarettes). Featuring World Series pitching hero Madison Bumgarner on the cover, it provided tobacco companies another opportunity to link smokeless tobacco with baseball. 

What it didn’t tell readers was that 2014 was full of grim reminders about the harm caused by baseball’s long association with smokeless tobacco. Beloved Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn died from salivary gland cancer and star pitcher Curt Schilling went public about his painful battle with oral cancer, both of which these players attributed to their longtime use of chewing tobacco.

That’s the reality of tobacco use – addiction, disease and premature death. But you would never know it from the messages tobacco companies are sending to kids with the help of Sports Illustrated.