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January 26, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
In 1971, the U.S. government banned cigarettes from TV and radio advertisements. However, most of the 325 million magazines U.S. readers bought last year were not subject to the same regulations. (There are some regulations, especially to shield children, and other magazines choose not to run tobacco ads.)
The fact remains: The CDC lists tobacco use as “the single most preventable cause of disease, disability and death.” More than 440,000 people die prematurely every year because of tobacco use.
Vox has put cigarettes on the cover before. Last spring, we ran a story about social smokers, an article that examined why people — an estimated 46 million in the U.S. — continue to smoke. We’ve also examined Columbia’s smoking ban. This week’s feature and cover story is different. A five-page photo essay shows life in a Columbia smoke shop.
One striking aspect of these photos is their beauty, which stands in contrast to the grisly pictures seen on anti-smoking billboards, commercials and ads. Are they too beautiful? Even deceptive? The staff at Vox debated these and other questions about how to tell this story in a way that would serve our readers best.
We decided to show you the story the photographer saw with as little interference as possible. It’s the story of Bruce, the small business owner who runs the store. It’s the story about the community of roll-your-own enthusiasts who frequent the store despite health risks and social stigma. It’s about government regulation and taxes influencing the marketplace and vice versa.
In the end, the photographer didn’t see a story about cigarettes — she saw a story about people.