The vast majority of noncommercial references to tobacco in the LGB press were in the form of images. These images only rarely presented a negative view of smoking, and frequently associated celebrities with smoking. Images of tobacco use were frequently used to illustrate articles that did not mention tobacco or smoking. Text items were more often negative about smoking, but tobacco was not presented as a significant issue for the LGB community in particular, despite high smoking rates in the community. In addition, the generally negative message about smoking provided in articles and editorials was contradicted and overwhelmed by the predominance of positive smoking imagery. There were more than three times as many images as text items. Tobacco use is thus normalized through images of celebrities and other community members smoking, which appear routinely in most LGB publications. These findings suggest that tobacco use is taken for granted in the LGB community, and that the LGB press may be an important factor in its promulgation.
Noncommercial imagery containing smoking constitutes product placement, sometimes for a brand, and nearly always for smoking itself. Whereas in most instances of product placement the relevant item can be considered natural or inherent to the action or subject (wearing shoes, eating a pizza), smoking rarely is integral to an image, and as smoking rates decline, it is no longer a “natural” or “routine” activity (if it ever was). Thus, any positive or neutral depiction of smoking, advertising or editorial, paid or unpaid, becomes a reminder, a normalizer, and a subtle advertisement for smoking. Cigarette ads themselves may function in this way, serving as ads for smoking generically, as well as for a brand (Smith & Malone, 2004
; While, Kelly, Huang, & Charlton, 1996
). Indeed, as cigarette advertising has shifted away from informational advertising (providing details about the content or flavor of the product) and toward “lifestyle” advertising (focusing on the image of the user; Albright et al., 1988
; Altman et al., 1987
; Wenger, Malone, George et al., 2001
), unpaid, incidental images of smoking may not differ very much from ads (see and ).
This imagery may be particularly salient in the context of the LGB press. Until recently, there were few, if any, positive images of gay people in mass media, and the gay press developed in part to provide them (Streitmatter, 1993
). But as the LGB press has moved away from its activist roots and toward a more assimilated commercialism (Fejes, 2003
; Fine, 2001
; Goldstein, 1997
; Hanania, 1995
; Harris, 1995
), it has wavered between picturing an idealized, upscale gay life full of celebrities (Streitmatter, 1995
), and mirroring a “real” and more ordinary gay life (Sender, 2001
). In either mode, readers may well respond strongly to the people depicted. The tobacco industry frequently attempts to make cigarette advertising “aspirational,” believing that the ad will be effective if the viewer wants to emulate the image (Pollay, 2000
; Wenger, Malone, George et al., 2001
). These noncommercial images may operate the same way, whether LGBs desire to emulate the rich and famous, or learn how to fit into their community.
Advocates have urged LGB periodicals to refuse tobacco advertising (Drabble, 2001
; Offen, Smith, & Malone, 2004
). Advocates for LGB health should consider that it may be equally important to urge them to adopt the policy of rejecting noncommercial tobacco imagery as some magazines in the United Kingdom have done (Amos, Jacobson, & White, 1991
), or otherwise to consider media advocacy approaches to address the portrayal of tobacco use in the LGB press (Dorfman, 2003
; Wallack & Dorfman, 1996
). Writers, photographers, and particularly editors of LGB publications should be approached. At minimum, they should be made aware of the amount of tobacco imagery in their periodicals (which is probably not deliberate, and therefore may have gone unnoticed), and its potential consequences. If possible, they should be persuaded to ameliorate the situation through editorial selection of images that do not feature smoking where it is not relevant.
There is no evidence that the pictures we have found in the LGB media are the result of paid product placement; brands are seldom visible. Therefore, editors who took steps to reduce or eliminate gratuitous images of tobacco use would likely not be risking loss of revenue. Advocates should be careful to articulate their concerns, however, in a way that obviates the issue of censorship. For instance, editors make choices about which images to use based on many different factors, including whether the image might be offensive to the community. Taking into account the health of the community when making those choices would have a similar effect on the editorial process. Persuading editors to make such efforts could contribute to the denormalizing of tobacco use in the LGB community.
Previous studies of other periodicals have focused on advertising (Smith, Offen, & Malone, 2004
; Amos et al., 1991
; Dewhirst & Pollay, 2001
; King, Siegel, Celebucki, & Connolly, 1998
; Minkler, Wallack, & Madden, 1987
; Warner, 1985a
; Warner, Goldenhar, & McLaughlin, 1992
; Weis, 1986
) and on specific tobacco-related subjects (Durrant et al., 2003
; Kennedy & Bero, 1999
; Lima & Siegel, 1999
; Magzamen et al., 2001
; Malone, Wenger, & Bero, 2000
; Menashe & Siegel, 1998
; Wenger, Malone, & Bero, 2001
), with little mention of noncommercial imagery (Chapman et al., 1995
). This study suggests that, at least in the LGB press, such imagery may be important to consider. Community-based periodicals are an important communications medium for LGBs (Streitmatter, 1995
), and the frequency of such imagery conveys normalization messages about smoking in this community. Because such noncommercial images have been found to have the potential to convey a more powerful prosmoking message than cigarette advertisements (MacFadyen, 2002
), tobacco control advocates in other communities may want to examine noncommercial imagery in relevant periodicals for similar patterns.