Free Speech for Tobacco Companies

Duff Wilson reports in today s New York Times that advertising restrictions imposed on tobacco companies by the latest FDA regulation law are likely to be challenged as infringements on free speech. ACSH staffers noticed one particular defense of the law, made by Matthew L. Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the group that teamed up with Altria to draft the legislation: In this case, great care was taken to permit black-and-white text advertising that permits them to communicate whatever truthful information they have.

That isn t true, says ACSH s Jeff Stier. Certain companies have a vested interest in being able to advertise that smokeless tobacco has been proven less harmful than smoking, and they will not be permitted to do that.

Supporters of the law also cite studies going back to 2001, indicating that youths were influenced even by tobacco advertisements specifically designed to appeal to adults, as justification for the law s very broad prohibitions on advertising. If they re saying youth are affected by advertising aimed at adults, where does it end? asks Stier. Why not ask for a complete ban on advertising?

People like us who opposed this bill because of the lack of benefit to public health acknowledge that there are some health benefits involved with limiting advertising, says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross, but then again, that sort of provision would have already come with the Master Settlement Agreement of 1999, without having to sacrifice helpful cessation products.