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Networks Fight to Run Antismoking Messages // But Even More Delays Will Cost Countless Lives
For dozens of years broadcasters refused to run any antismoking messages even as they made fortunes from cigarette commercials, and only began to do so when ordered by the FCC as the result of a legal action brought by John Banzhaf
Now, ironically, they are fighting to be able to broadcast antismoking messages, but the public is unlikely to see the messages anytime soon because of legal infighting, says law professor John Banzhaf, who has been called "The Man Behind the Ban on Cigarette Commercials"
As a result of a Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations [RICO] law suit, tobacco companies are being required to explain - on TV, in newspapers, and elsewhere - how they deceived the public about the dangers of cigarettes, and networks like A&E and Univision are fighting for a bigger share of the revenue which will be generated when the messages begin running five times per week, during prime time for one year, under the latest version of the plan.
Coincidentally, this novel remedy - called "corrective advertising"
Unfortunately the public - and especially young people as they reach the critical age at which many experiment with smoking only to become addicted - will probably not see or be helped by these antismoking messages for many year, he laments.
Cigarette makers have fought in court for nearly 15 years that they are a racketeering influenced corrupt organization which deliberately deceived the public about the dangers of smoking, and their continued legal appeals will further delay these life-saving messages. In addition, squabbling between major media companies over how much money each should get to run the messages will likely result in even further delay, says Banzhaf.
A lengthy memo outlining the legal theories under which the major tobacco companies could be sued under RICO originated with Prof. Banzhaf, and helped lead to this unprecedented legal victory.
Moreover, the concept of ordering companies which had engaged in deceptive practices to confess to the public that they lied in the past goes back much further to 1970. In a legal proceeding at the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] involving Campbell soup, law students under Professor Banzhaf's direction persuaded the agency for the first time that it had the legal authority to order corrective advertising.
The agency reconfirmed that legal authority in a subsequent proceeding involving Firestone tires, and the remedy was also applied in many proceedings which followed. Some of these instances are cited by the judge in upholding this unusual remedy.
“It's very satisfying, at a time when so many people criticize law professors for teaching only theory and not practice, and for doing little more than writing increasingly useless and irrelevant law review articles, to be able to point to important public health accomplishments from their efforts in the real world; victories expected to save lives by helping to persuade youngsters not to take up smoking," suggests Banzhaf.
Prof. Banzhaf brought legal actions which led to the first dramatic decline in cigarette consumption, the ban on cigarette commercials, started the modern nonsmokers' movement which is banning smoking in so many places here and abroad, helped to kill off Joe Camel and cigarette billboards, supported other law suits against the tobacco companies which led to billion-dollar verdicts, etc.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418
GWU Law School
202 994-7229 / 703 527-8418