worried that your nicotine-stained fingers peg you as a loser? That your inability to quit marks you as a person without discipline or class? Don't fret. Big tobacco has dedicated itself to the task of making sure your smoke-addled self-esteem remains fully intact. In an attempt to strike up a more intimate relationship with smokers, Imperial Tobacco, the Montreal-based subsidiary of the multinational giant British American Tobacco, which manufactures Players, Du Maurier and Matinee brand cigarettes, has been direct-mailing three glossy lifestyle mags to thousands of adult smokers across Canada.
And one of the companies contracted to produce the magazines is none other than Multi-Vision Publishing Inc., the Toronto company that also happens to publish two of the hippest and most progressive Canadian magazines on the stands, Shift and Elm Street.
Federal law has forced tobacco companies to get creative about how and where they advertise their addictive wares. For the moment, they can still advertise in magazines, including the one you're holding. But critics say Imperial is attempting to reassure those anxious, self-loathing smokers who can't quit that they're still in control and that it's still hip to light up.
"Tobacco companies worry a lot about the fact that smoking is becoming more and more an activity of poor people, for people who are unemployed, for people who have little education and for people who have other addiction problems," says Francis Thompson, a policy analyst with the Non-smokers Rights Association of Canada. "Therefore, amongst smokers who are addicted and can't quit, there's a lot of anxiety about what it means to them to be a smoker. So a lot of tobacco advertising is, in fact, status reassurance."
Traditionally, Multi-Vision's bread and butter has been the slick custom publications it produces for, among others, Eatons, Shoppers Drug Mart and Acura. Now add to that list the Imperial Tobacco-funded magazines Rev and Pursuit.
Rev is modelled on glossy magazines like Maxim that are aimed at young males. The cover of the latest issue features actor Heather Graham, and there are articles on a Hooters girl, Toronto Maple Leaf Tie Domi and mountain climbing. It's largely aimed at Players smokers, although both Players and Du Maurier ads are positioned from front to back.
The fine print on the masthead explains that "REV is edited for a select audience of Canadian men. Adventure, toys, playing to win -- REV is a magazine for adult men who are socially active, physically competitive, curious about their world and always ready to try something new."
According to Imperial Tobacco, Rev primarily targets male smokers aged 19 to 24 and has a circulation of 50,000.
The other magazine Multi-Vision produces for Imperial is Pursuit, a slick arts-and-entertainment offering. The masthead explains that Pursuit is "edited for a select audience of adult women and men. Each issue will present all the best offered in entertainment, arts and life." Again, cigarette ads are positioned throughout. According to Imperial, Pursuit is aimed at adults 19 to 34 and has a circulation of 85,000.
WSP Marketing International, another Toronto-based custom publisher, produces a third magazine for Imperial called Unwind. According to the cigarette maker, Unwind has a circulation of 85,000 and is aimed at female smokers between the ages of 25 and 49.
"One of the avenues open to us (under the Tobacco Act) is publications sent to an identified adult through the mail," says Neil Blanche, Imperial's director of marketing and communications. "So to be able to make sure that the content they're getting from us is relevant, we decided to look at producing our own (magazines)."
Multi-Vision president Greg MacNeil, who says he's never smoked and doesn't advocate smoking, maintains that his company is simply in the business of "creating content."
"This isn't going after new smokers," he argues. "It's going to people who are 19 to 30 who say, "Yeah, I smoke, and I'd like to get your stuff.'"
But Non-smokers Rights' Thompson begs to differ. He says the magazines, as well as reassuring existing smokers, are also aimed at attracting new ones.
From a marketing standpoint, Esther Buchsbaum, a partner at Montreal-based MECA Communications, views the smoke mags as a "soft sell approach coming in the back door" by an industry desperate to hang onto its customer base. It also happens to be very effective.
"It's probably a very cost-efficient way for them to market," she notes. "It's very focused. They've got their demographic down pat. They know who their customer is."
Indeed, Imperial has built up a database of thousands of adult smokers from contests, referral programs and data-capture teams at events like the Molson Indy.
Multi-Vision has refined that information through magazine surveys and expansive one-on-one interviews with readers conducted by a marketing research firm.
MacNeil boasts that 95 per cent of readers rated Pursuit good to excellent, and even more said they wanted to receive the next issue.
Although he maintains that the editorial staff of the smoke mags stays separate from his commercial publications, there has been some cross-over in the past. For example, the current editor of Shift, Neil Morton, was previously the editor of Pursuit.
And although Rev and Pursuit are primarily funded by Imperial, Multi-Vision still sells in some of its commercial advertising, according to MacNeil. So cologne and perfume ads that appear in Shift and Elm Street may also appear in the smoke mags.
"There is a trade-off in benefits in all of our properties," says MacNeil.
However, he says Rev and Pursuit are not subsidizing Shift, which was bankrupt when Multi-Vision purchased it last year and isn't yet making money for the company.
Ironically, although, like NOW, Shift also takes tobacco ads, Elm Street hasn't been getting them because, MacNeil says, Print Measurement Bureau data shows that not a lot of smokers are reading the women's mag.
While Elm Street did previously take tobacco ads, founding editor and now computer columnist Stevie Cameron says she "didn't like them."
"But as I said at the time, they don't interfere with my editorial and I don't interfere with their advertising," she says. "And there's lots of stuff I do that (Multi-Vision) hates, and there's lots of advertising they take that I hate. But we stayed out of each other's turf and it was a very good relationship because of that."