Tobacco Sham: Industry Argues Ads Are Innocent

Article excerpt

THE Clinton administration is out to put constraints on the advertising of cigarettes. The tobacco industry is protesting that it is unconstitutional and unnecessary. Unconstitutional because of the First Amendment; unnecessary because the advertisements are not really leading anyone astray.

I'll leave it to the constitutional scholars whether banning some pictures of vibrant and nubile beauties with cigarettes in their mouths is an infringement of the First Amendment rights of the tobacco companies and their advertising agencies. But as for the industry's protestations that the advertisements are harmless, I don't believe that for a second.

In recent years, as American society has mobilized against the evils of addiction to nicotine, the tobacco industry and its hired guns have hurried to assure us that their marketing efforts are innocuous. We are not trying to create new customers, they claim, even though they lose about a thousand customers a day in the United States to death from smoking-related diseases. The advertisements, they maintain, are merely the way different companies compete for existing customers.

Each tobacco company is simply trying to get the customers of other cigarette brands to switch to their own, we're supposed to believe. And therefore, there is no public-policy justification for interfering with the free play of such commercial speech.

Is this argument credible?

To see through the tobacco companies' claims, there's no need to raise the issue of the industry's general credibility. …