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Study Chides Weekly Reader's Tobacco Coverage

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Weekly Reader, one of the country's most popular newsmagazines for children, may be presenting a cloudy message to young people about cigarette smoking, a new study says.

Health researchers at the University of California at San Francisco evaluated tobacco-related articles published between 1989 and 1994 in 34 issues of Weekly Reader and 28 editions of the competing weekly, Scholastic News.

The researchers found that Weekly Reader was "significantly more likely" to represent the tobacco industry's perspectives in its articles on smoking and tobacco use: 68 percent of Weekly Reader's stories included the industry's views, compared with 32 percent of the articles in Scholastic News. Thirty-eight percent of Weekly Reader's articles contained a clear no-smoking message, while 79 percent of the stories in Scholastic News contained admonitions against tobacco use.

One leading elementary education group said last week that the study is cause for concern and that educators should carefully scrutinize publications that are used in the classroom.

Ties to Company

Weekly Reader, which publishes editions for prekindergarten through 6th grade and has a circulation of more than 8 million, was purchased in 1991 by K-III Holdings, a subsidiary of Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts, & Co. Until last December, KKR was a major shareholder of RJR Nabisco, whose divisions include the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the second-largest cigarette maker in the nation.

Scholastic News is published in New York City by Scholastic Inc. and reaches about 3.5 million elementary school students and their teachers.

Stanton A. Glantz, a professor of medicine at UCSF and a co-author of the study, said that before K-III bought the magazine, 62 percent of Weekly Reader articles on tobacco-related subjects had a no-smoking message, compared with 24 percent after the acquisition.

"The results we turned up are troubling," Mr. Glantz said. "It sends a message that is more consistent with what the tobacco industry is interested in than a health professional would be."

But in a statement last week, the magazine's publishers said, "Weekly Reader has probably been more influential than any other entity in discouraging children from smoking, and our articles over the years consistently reflect that position," it said.

Mr. Glantz said the study was prompted by a controversy over a cover story on smokers' rights that ran in the Oct. 14, 1994, issue of Weekly Reader's 5th-grade edition. "Do Cigarettes Have a Future?," discussed the economic impact of efforts to curb smoking. (See Education Week, Oct. 26, 1994.)

June Million, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Elementary School Principals, said,"It's a wake-up call to pay attention to everything you read."

Ms. Million said she plans to mention the study in the next newsletter to the 26,000 members of the Alexandria, Va.-based group.

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