How Thanksgiving 1966 Saved Millions of Lives

Thanksgiving 1966 Led to Anti-Smoking Commercials and Then a Ban
WASHINGTON - Nov. 21, 2023 - PRLog -- How Thanksgiving 1966 Saved Millions of Lives
It Led to Anti-Smoking Commercials and Then a Ban

WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 21, 2023) - Thanksgiving is a day each year when Americans give thanks for many different things, but Thanksgiving of 1966 was especially important.

It led to a barrage of anti-smoking messages on radio and television which saved millions of lives by persuading smokers to quit - something the famous Surgeon General's Report on Smoking was unable to do - and eventually led to a total ban on cigarette commercials.

The story is told in a famous article ( in THE READER'S DIGEST entitled "The Man Behind The Ban on Cigarette Commercials."  It begins this way:

"ON THANKSGIVING Day, 1966, a 26 year old New Yorker settled down before his television set to watch a professional football game. At 2 p.m., the network interrupted to carry a commercial which pictured handsome, rugged men confidently smoking cigarettes in an outdoor western setting. To the tobacco industry, it was a routine advertisement; to John F. Banzhaf III, it was the final outrage. Citing the commission's "fairness doctrine," which requires broadcasters to present all sides of controversial subjects, he argued . . ."

that the Fairness Doctrine should be applied to cigarette commercials.  Much to everyone's surprise, the FCC agreed with him, and said that for every three cigarette commercials they ran, radio and TV stations had to provide free broadcast time for at least one anti-smoking message.

The result was an unprecedented barrage of anti-smoking messages which more than overcame the paid advertising for this deadly product.  These warnings about the dangers of smoking persuaded millions of smokers to quit, causing the first ever decline in U.S. per capita cigarette consumption.

Indeed, an article written at the time said that young Banzhaf had probably saved more lives than any physician alive; an accolade which led this just-minted lawyer to successfully defend the decision in court against the industry's highly paid lawyers - although he admits that he had to use two unusual legal tactics to do so. It's all described in the article (

After just a few years of seeing their market shrink because of the Banzhaf anti-smoking commercials, the major tobacco companies ran crying to Congress to ask it to ban cigarette commercials so that broadcasters would stop providing free time for these very effective anti-smoking messages.  Ads for cigarettes disappeared from the nation's airwaves in a puff of smoke beginning on January 2, 1971.

JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.   @profbanzhaf

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