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The Banning of Cigarette Commercials From TV (and Other Dangerous Products)

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Cigarette butts

Cigarette butts

On New Year’s Eve, 1971, millions of Americans were tuned in to NBC to watch The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. At 11:59, Johnny went to a commercial break, something he had done thousands of times since he took over The Tonight Show in 1962. But there was something special about this break, a 1-minute commercial for Virginia Slims cigarettes. Cigarette commercials had been a mainstay of advertising in the first 25 years of television. But this commercial was different. It was the last cigarette commercial broadcast nationally in the United States. One minute later at midnight on January 2, 1971, The “Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act” went into effect. This law banned the advertising of cigarettes and tobacco products on television and radio.

The enacting of this law was part of a larger health campaign to discourage Americans from tobacco usage. It has been successful. Since the mid-1960s, the number of smokers in America has declined substantially. Smoking is now banned in most places and smoking-related illnesses like heart disease, lung cancer, and other respiratory diseases have declined. It has become a cleaner, healthier world. I appreciate the fact that I do not have to put up with somebody else’s secondhand smoke at work or when I am out to dinner.

While I understand that cigarette smoking has caused untold heartache, pain, and suffering to millions of people who have contracted smoking-related diseases, the libertarian part for me is uncomfortable with the banning of cigarette commercials. We are a nation of free-thinking adults who deserve to be able to make up our own minds about our actions. We don’t need a “nanny state” to tell us what we can or cannot do, or what we are allowed to see on television. We understand it is dangerous to our health. And was it really fair to the cigarette companies? Not only were they not able to advertise their product, but this event and the ensuing anti-smoking campaign, caused economic hardship on millions of their employees, vendors, and communities. Also, the TV networks lost millions in advertising revenue.

Cigarette advertising was banned because cigarettes are dangerous to smokers and the people around them. But what about other products that have similar attributes? Shouldn’t they be banned from advertising also? Listed below are three dangerous products which are big advertisers, using the above logic they should also not be allowed to advertise on TV and radio.

Audi R8

Audi R8


According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, 43,443 people were killed in 2005 on U.S. highways. That figure has declined in recent years due to the fact that better cars are being made. With that many people being killed and more being injured and crippled, it is a fact that automobiles are killers. Many car commercials show automobiles being driven faster than they should be going like the advertisement showing an SUV speeding through a parking garage.

A feature of many commercials, especially those for sports sedans and sports cars, is to show the car going way too fast on a winding, mountain road. It emphasizes speed and handling. These ads usually feature in small writing at the bottom “professional driver on a closed course”. However, it is certain that people will buy one of these cars and drive it like they see on the television commercial. He is neither a “professional driver” nor is he driving on a “closed course.” He is a danger to everyone else on the road.

The fact is states will give driver's licenses to anyone who can pass a simple test. That means there are a lot of subpar drivers on the road. Many of them are distracted by their radios, cell phones, GPSs, and other occupants of the car. These people are not careful drivers and they should not be encouraged to purchase a 2000-pound killing machine. That’s not even considering the people who get behind the wheel drunk. That leads us to my next item which should be banned from advertising on TV and radio.



In 2003, the U.S. highways saw the deaths of 17,941 in alcohol-related crashes and many others were hurt and maimed in accidents. Million have gotten diseases like cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, and ulcers from a lifetime of drinking. Also, countless lives have been ruined, jobs have been lost and families have been torn apart by alcohol. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 140,000,000 alcoholics worldwide. If this product is so dangerous, then why do we allow it to advertise on TV and Radio?

Well, the alcohol industry is one of the biggest advertisers on television, especially on sports broadcasts and shows that appeal to the male demographic. In 1999, the alcohol industry spent nearly $2 billion on advertising. Three-quarters of that figure came from beer advertising. That figure has since increased. That’s a lot of money to spend to shill a product that can be deadly.

To its credit, the alcohol industry has been successful over the past 20 or so years in self-regulation. They saw what happened to the cigarette industry in the early 1970s and did not want the government to step in. They are careful to advertise only to people over the legal drinking age, they don’t put alcohol commercials on shows where children are the key demographic and they have promoted responsible drinking campaigns.

Even after this, they still market a dangerous product. And they somehow have managed to entice a new generation of drinkers with their advertising and commercials.


Fast Food Restaurants and High Fat Foods

Let’s face it, watching TV these days will make you hungry. Commercials for fast food restaurants, pub chains, and fine dining establishments show prepared foods that are appealing, and delicious. There is even a popular cable TV network that shows how to prepare these delicious foods. What they do not advertise is that a constant diet of foods high in cholesterol, fats, refined sugars, sodium, and carbohydrates will take years off the average person’s life. Overeating these foods can lead to obesity, heart disease, cancers, diabetes, and other serious maladies. Eating these rich foods has made us, as a nation, overweight. Even worse, we are raising a generation of children that are unhealthy. It is likely that it is just as dangerous and unhealthy to eat a Big Mac or a hot fudge sundae as it is to smoke a cigarette.

What Can Be Done?

So what do we do? I say very little. The three industries above have seen what the government has done to cigarette advertising and have gone out of their way to self-regulate. The automobile industry has since the 1950s been on a campaign to build safer cars and they have succeeded. The fast-food industry has begun to offer “healthy alternatives” and the alcohol industries’ efforts are detailed above. I am concerned as to whether their efforts will be sufficient to keep the “nanny state” off their backs. I hope it is. I am responsible enough to treat these products with respect. I am an American adult who can make his own decisions. I understand the dangers involved with using these products. I understand that when I drive, I have to drive carefully and defensively. I know that when I drink I have to be responsible and never drive drunk. Every time I eat delicious, unhealthy food, I make a conscious decision to consume it, and I am aware of the consequences. And my wife and I have gone out of our way to instill these values into our children.

If the alcohol, automobile, and fast food industries do not succeed and succumb to the well-meaning but misguided people in our society and we let it happen, future generations may find these decisions have been taken away from them. Personal responsibility is one of the main characteristics of being an American. To lose this would be a shame.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2012 billd01603