|September 3, 2009|
|Three Cheers for Cigarette Companies|
|By Kevin McCauley|
|Three cheers for the cigarette companies that are taking a stand against the dramatic Congressional overreach that threatens to curb their right to commercial speech. |
PR people should support the efforts of Lorillard, Reynolds American and National Tobacco and the suit they filed in U.S. District Court (Bowling Green) against the Food and Drug Administration. The goal is to block enactment of draconian measures of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.
The Act is way over the top. For instance, cigarette companies will be forced to put a graphic of a diseased lung on half the front and backside of a pack of cigarettes.
What's next for the nanny crowd in D.C.? Will Starbucks be forced to put an image of a person with third-degree burns on their cups to remind customers that coffee is hot? Will Burger King be made to put an image of an obese person on the package of its Double Whopper with Cheese, which weighs in at a hefty 1,010 calories and 67 grams of fat? Will Congress require the Belgians to slap an image of car wreck on cans of Budweiser to warn people about the dangers of drinking and driving?
It's only a short congressional hop, skip and jump from tobacco to other consumer products.
There are other boneheaded aspects of the FSP&TCA. The intent of the law is to protect children from tobacco advertising. Okay, no "Joe Camel" ads on Nickelodeon. The law, however, goes way beyond Joe C. It bans color ads in magazines that have 15 percent readership from people under 18. That means tobacco companies can't run those ads in print outlets like Sports Illustrated and People, though those mags are primarily geared to adults who can legally buy cigarettes.
Smoking kills 400,000 Americans each year. That's horrible. Cancer care costs billions. Today's young kids are media savvy enough and well aware that smoking will kill them. My father smoked Lucky Strikes and Kools during the '50s and '60s. He called them "cancer sticks." Anti-smoking education has made giant strides since then. Nobody today questions the health risk posed by cigarettes.
As long as cigarettes are legal in the U.S., congress has no right to trample the First Amendment rights of tobacco companies. As Lorillard said today in its Wall Street Journal ad:
"While we realize that many do not deem commercial messages about a product that is as widely vilified as cigarettes as deserving of these protections, it is precisely this kind of controversial speech that the First Amendment protects."
Over the years, many PR people have told me that they would never represent a tobacco company. This legal battle should be the exception to that rule.
(Image via Flickr)
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