Students stage 23-cent protest against cigarette ads

When we last left Joe Cherner, he was exhorting high school students not to light up. Now, Mr. Cherner is blowing smoke at magazines that run tobacco ads. Last week, at Cherner's instigation, students from Columbus Academy Middle School in New York mailed 10,000 postage prepaid subscription cards to magazines that carry tobacco advertising. But instead of taking a subscription, they wrote antismoking messages on the back of the cards, which cost the magazines from 23 to 55 cents apiece in postage.

``I am sure the members will not be too happy about that,'' says Lee Ahern, a spokesman for the Magazine Publishers Association. However, Mr. Ahern says the MPA believes ``as long as cigarettes remain legal interstate commerce, it should be legal to advertise the product.''

Many publications rely on tobacco advertising. According to the Publishers Information Bureau, which tracks 147 member magazines, cigarette companies have placed $248 million in advertising for the first nine months of the year. This is down 2 percent from last year, but makes cigarette advertising the sixth most important source of revenue for publishers.

An increasing number of editors and publishers, however, are declining the advertising. About 50 magazines, including Readers' Digest and the New Yorker decline such ads.

The antismoking forces intend to keep the pressure on publishers. Regina Carlson, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Group Against Smoking Pollution (GASP), says her members are now sending the cards in by the thousands. ``It's an idea that sings,'' she says.

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