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Blowing Smoke: The NY Times Pushes Tobacco-Use Myths
October 7, 2003
by Carey Roberts

The New York Times is at it again. The Times has a well-documented record of advancing the myth that women's health lags in comparison to men.

And now, the Times wants you to believe that cigarette smoking is a bigger threat to women than to men.

In a September 30 article, reporter Anahad O'Connor concluded that "most states are not meeting the nation's goals to discourage women from smoking".

Since the Times didn't get the story right, here are the facts:

First, cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Smoking contributes to a broad range of deaths, including heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, and even diabetes.

Second, men are at substantially greater risk of smoking than women -- 26% of men versus 21% of women. If all men stopped using tobacco, men's lifespans might actually catch up with women's.

So how did this latest example of journalistic disinformation happen?

First, the Washington, DC-based National Women's Law Center went through some government statistics to find out which states have set up stop smoking hotlines, imposed excise taxes on cigarettes sales, and the like.

Then, the 50 states were put in order. Hawaii came out the best, while Louisiana fared the worst. An arbitrary grading system was set up so that 39 states fell in the "fail" category, while no states were judged to be doing an "excellent" job.

These findings were then packaged in the recent report, Making the Grade on Women's Health.

Finally, the standard "experts" were trotted out to beat their breasts and to proclaim yet another Great Injustice Against Women.

Dr. Michelle Berlin, author of this disreputable study, called the situation "pretty appalling." Dr. Corinne Husten at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reminded us that female liberation remains a distant dream: "This reminds us that we have a long way to go with regard to tobacco use among women."

And if all those angry women and guilty men out there still hadn't gotten the message, Dr. Michele Bloch of the National Cancer Institute wants us to believe, "I think the report reasonably concludes that most states are failing women."

This campaign follows the time-tested formula of feminist advocacy: publish a report, manufacture a crisis, and use the media to generate grass-roots hysteria. And mark my words, this report will show up on the desks of all the state legislators at their next session.

We can't really blame the National Women's Law Center for this latest example of Ms.-information. Like most feminist-driven interest groups, the NWLC wants to direct ever-increasing services and programs to women, regardless of whether this will worsen existing disparities.

But we have to ask why the New York Times would become a willing partner to this misleading campaign.

The famous book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, explains why:

"Our hypothesis is that worthy victims will be featured prominently and dramatically...In contrast, unworthy victims will merit only slight detail, minimal humanization, and little context that will excite and enrage."

Yes, smoking among women should be cause for concern. But we should not be guilty of a form of selective compassion that flatly ignores the health needs of men.

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