January 1, 1971, may be the smokiest day in the history of television. That is the last day on which it will be legal to advertise cigarettes over radio and television stations in the United States.
The elimination of cigarette advertising from the airwaves was not a voluntary act on the part of tobacco companies, although prior to the passage of federal legislation the tobacco industry proposed withdrawing from broadcast advertising in return for some special legislative favors. The bargain was not made, however, and on April 1, 1970, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969 was signed into law by the President of the United States. It will go into effect on January 2, 1971.
Sponsored and pushed vigorously by Utah Senator Frank E. Moss, the law strikes at two promotional activities of cigarette manufacturers. First, there is an absolute prohibition against any advertising of cigarettes on radio or television after January 1, 1971. Second, the law requires the following statement on all cigarette packages: “Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined That Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Your Health.”
Although this may not be the last act in the conflict between the tobacco interests and the health of individuals throughout the world, it is a convenient point from which to look back. Many other nations have stepped out much sooner than the United States in an effort to protect the health of citizens from the effects of tobacco. Great Britain, Italy, and other European nations placed limitations on tobacco advertising, particularly in television, several years ago.
But in the United States there has been an organized, concerted, and effective campaign conducted to protect the economic interests of the tobacco industry. That effort was initiated in 1953 with the formation of the Tobacco Institute as a voice and lobbyist for the industry. Later the institute retained the nation’s largest public relations firm, Hill & Knowlton, Inc., to counter the publicity that was building up concerning the link between tobacco and cancer.
The effectiveness of the Tobacco Institute and its public relations firm can best be measured by the fact that it took so many years for the passage of effective legislation. By the end of the 1950s the scientific data developed in several nations was all but conclusive in identifying tobacco with cancer, heart deaths, and pulmonary diseases. In a significant medical-scientific effort, the Surgeon General of the United States appointed an advisory committee that examined all the evidence on tobacco and health. The report of that committee concluded that cigarette smoking contributes substantially to mortality from certain specific diseases and to the overall death rate. Prompted by the conclusions of that 1964 report, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed that all cigarette packages carry a strong warning concerning the possibility of death from cancer for those who smoked. The FTC also suggested that a similar warning be carried in all cigarette advertising.
At that point the real power of the tobacco industry was felt. With the congressmen from tobacco-growing states leading the way, a bill was pushed through the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States prohibiting the Federal Trade Commission from requiring such a warning, either on the package or in advertising. In its place the law provided for a mild statement on the package: “Caution: Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health.” In its original form this legislation would have prevented the Federal Trade Commission from ever taking any further action. This was defeated, however, and the law was given a cutoff date of 1969.
As the 1969 expiration date for the Cigarette Labeling Act neared, an attempt was made to renew it, but the tide running against tobacco was finally too strong.
One of the most intriguing blows against tobacco took place in November 1968, when the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia supported a ruling of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that required radio and television broadcasters to carry “significant” anti-tobacco commercials free of charge. In fact, the events leading to that decision may have been the spark that eventually brought legal victory to those working against the spread of the tobacco habit.
The story is in the best tradition of the democratic theory that says one voice does and can have an influence in the big decisions. A young attorney living in New York City, John Banzhaf III, fought mostly a solo battle to get the negative side of the tobacco story told in the electronic media.
The David in this story (Mr. Banzhaf) slew the Goliath (tobacco industry) with a stone called the Fairness Doctrine. This is a ruling of the FCC requiring that if any point of view on a controversial issue is presented on a broadcasting station, then all other sides must be presented. Mr. Banzhaf suggested in 1966 to WCBS-TV in New York City that the question of tobacco and health was a controversial issue and therefore time should be provided to counter the cigarette commercials. In short, the death and disease side of cigarette smoking should be presented.
This novel idea was rejected by the television station. Mr. Banzhaf’s request was more warmly received at the FCC, the federal agency that licenses broadcasting stations. In fact, the FCC went to work rather quickly and ruled that broadcasting stations carrying cigarette commercials would have to “devote a significant amount of broadcast time” to anti-smoking commercials.
It was this 1967 ruling that was upheld by the circuit court in 1968. Many observers considered the solo effort by Banzhaf as the turning point in the fight to impress the mass public with the fact that tobacco was actually dangerous to health. Strangely enough, Banzhaf was given little or no support by the major health organizations in the early stages of his campaign.
As an aside, Banzhaf ought to be classified with other modern crusaders, such as Rachel Carson (pesticides) and Ralph Nader (auto safety). These successes tell us a great deal about the power of the single individual who fights for a just cause at the right time and in the right way.
Back on the legislative scene, Congress passed in 1970 the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act sponsored by Senator Moss, instead of renewing the Cigarette Labeling Act. This is the law mentioned earlier that bans cigarette advertising from the airwaves. Prior to the passage of that law, however, the tobacco industry offered to withdraw all their advertising from broadcasting in return for a promise that the Federal Trade Commission would be prohibited from requiring health warnings in print advertising.
Senator Moss and his supporters in Congress were in no mood for a compromise. The law was passed eliminating cigarette commercials from radio and television, and the only limitation placed on the Federal Trade Commission was one of time. They may not take any further action against tobacco advertising until after July 1, 1971.
Legally, that is the way things stand in the United States at the beginning of 1971, but the story would not be complete without several illustrations of the campaign waged by the tobacco industry over the past decade.
The accumulation of research evidence linking smoking with cancer and other diseases has continued to mount year after year. Yet the Tobacco Institute, as the spokesman for the industry, has challenged virtually every research study indicting tobacco. And when an occasional piece of research appeared that took the side of cigarettes, that study was trumpeted far and wide with press releases and paid advertisements.
For many years the tobacco line was that none of the research had actually induced lung cancer in test animals through smoking. The American Cancer Society announced on February 5, 1970, the results of a three-and-a-half-year test with dogs that were taught to smoke through holes cut in their throats. According to the Cancer Society press conference, some of the dogs died from lung disease, such as emphysema, and at least twelve other dogs contracted lung cancer.
The response of the Tobacco Institute was an advertising campaign throughout the nation claiming that the American Cancer Society refused to allow independent verification of the research results.
Reference was made earlier to the Tobacco Institute’s public relations counsel, Hill & Knowlton. This agency resigned the tobacco account in 1969 after disagreement over tactics used by a second public relations firm retained by the Tobacco Institute in 1968. That firm, Tiderock Corp., mailed anonymously 600,000 copies of an article in True magazine, which concluded that there was no proof that smoking causes human cancer. In addition to mailing copies of the article to opinion makers, Tiderock also promoted it heavily in advertisements.
Later it was also discovered, according to the Wall Street Journal of March 17, 1969, and March 21, 1968, that the True article and another pro-smoking piece in the National Inquirer had been written by an employee of Hill & Knowlton. Although the man was not working for Hill & Knowlton at the time the articles were written, the Journal reported that Federal Trade Commission investigators discovered the writer had been paid $500 to write the piece by one of the major tobacco firms.
In a March 3, 1969, editorial, Advertising Age expressed concern about the approach of the tobacco industry: “As a matter of prudence, if nothing else, the advertising business must recognize that there are an increasing number of people who do not approve of the way tobacco advertisers and media have responded to the Surgeon General’s findings. …
“Our society rightly expects those who assert rights to display commensurate evidence of a sense of responsibility. We think a more substantial display of responsibility is long overdue—for the welfare of the advertising business as well as the public.”
Never has the case been stronger for the truth that the smoking of cigarettes represents a “clear and present danger” to the health of smokers. A number of nations have conducted promotional campaigns against smoking and in some cases limited advertising.
In the United States, the Surgeon General, the Congress, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, and a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals have all examined the evidence. The conclusion: cigarette smoking brings disease and shortens life.
And yet men continue to be addicted to the habit. Those who have an economic interest in the product continue to resist the evidence. Governments who are responsible for the health and safety of their citizens take very small steps. The one thing that shines through the haze is the Lord’s statement to Joseph Smith in 1833: “And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man. …”(D&C 89:8.)