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


I enjoy writing about society, politics, history, and sports—and whatever else interests me.

Cigarette Butts

Cigarette Butts

On New Year’s night, 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 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 the 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 US 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, 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 US 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.

Onion Rings and a Big Fatty Hamburger! Yumm!

Onion Rings and a Big Fatty Hamburger! Yumm!

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 a 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.

Fred and Barney Advertise Winstons!!

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


Christian D Golden on August 05, 2019:

The inanity of this logic cannot be overstated. If you want to keep this line of thinking going down the tracks, pretty much anything can be banned from the airwaves. Computer games contribute to a sedentary lifestyle and obesity. Cell phones can create distractions for drivers and pedestrians. Computers lead to eye strain. Coffee can cause anxiety and tachycardia. Contact lenses can cause infections if you fall asleep with them in. And that's just the C's.

Tobacco is an outlier inasmuch as it's a) an addictive substance that's b) usually meant to be used regularly and therefore to cause addiction, and it c) leads to an unusually high incidence of poor health outcomes. Using this as a model for banning certain car commercials because the model in question is too sporty defies logic. The idea you would want the government to intervene in these matters is an airtight argument against universal suffrage.

Nancy on May 07, 2019:

We as a country are overdue to have the same thing take place for alcohol. Do you happen to know of an organization that is leading this effort? Alcohol is advertised on tv, billboards. You cant even go into your local grocery stores with your shopping cart in tote along with your children and they are asking you if you want to taste the new line of wine out. This has to stop. For the future of our children.

billd01603 (author) from Worcester on April 03, 2019:

Thanks for reading and commenting Liam

Fin from Barstow on March 31, 2019:

Good points in the article, however, Hollywood still manages to encourage smoking and provide free commercials in movies, music videos and sometimes television shows. You will see characters smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol etc.

Self regulation is important - especially when done by the consumer. However, some of the "vices" are just a little too pleasurable.

Interesting read.

Wendy on August 06, 2017:

Not quite. The surprise is who led the ban on cigarette TV advertising:

Joseph F. Cullman III, head of Philip Morris, promised, on behalf of the nine leading cigarette manufacturers in the country, to end all cigarette advertising on radio and television not by the 1973 deadline proposed by the broadcasters but by September, 1970.

I remember the summary from my college advertising class: basically for every minute of cigarette advertising, a minute of the counter message had to be broadcast. This made for a significant impact in sales of cigarettes. While the FCC pushed for restrictions on cigarette advertising, the cigarette manufacturers in affect ultimately voted to ban themselves—if no air time was used for cigarette advertising, then no air time could be required for anti-smoking messages. No such requirement was enforceable for print.

“… the tobacco industry and the broadcasting industry were in for a bit of a shock. In June, 1967, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that its “fairness doctrine”—which provided that when allegations concerning controversial subjects of public importance are made on the air broadcasters must provide air time, on request, for citizens who dispute these allegations and wish to make their own views known—applied to the advertising of cigarettes on the air.

“The anti-smoking spots are dreadfully effective,” a staff member of the Tobacco Institute remarked to me one day that summer, and a few days later a former executive of a major tobacco company who had just been removed from his organization as a result of a corporate merger, and was consequently feeling a bit disillusioned about the tobacco business, told me, “The industry considers that the anti-smoking commercials, on top of the tremendous anti-smoking campaigns that have been mounted in the public schools by the Public Health Service and the various health organizations, and this on top of all the other unfavorable publicity about smoking, are really hurting. In fact, the opinion of many top-level tobacco people is that as things stand they’d just as soon have cigarette commercials banned altogether if by that they could in effect get the anti-smoking commercials banned, too.” Whatever their considerations were, the tobacco forces rallied themselves for a heavy counterstroke against the broadcasters. On July 22nd, at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Consumer Subcommittee, Joseph F. Cullman III, head of Philip Morris, promised, on behalf of the nine leading cigarette manufacturers in the country, to end all cigarette advertising on radio and television not by the 1973 deadline proposed by the broadcasters but by September, 1970.

“Suddenly the tobacco companies were putting themselves in a heroic role. According to them, it was now only the greed of the networks that was keeping cigarette commercials on TV.

Full story here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1970/12/19/the-f...

Colleen on January 17, 2017:

I have asthma and have suffered greatly from second hand smoke, and though there's less in public places I still have to deal with smokers in the apartment next door.

Damien on June 25, 2013:

How can Macanudo sponser Big Break on the golf channel? isn't this a violation?

billd01603 (author) from Worcester on February 23, 2013:

Yeah Que Scout, It was a shock to me too. Good thing I only go to NYC every few years.

Steve from Fiji on February 23, 2013:

Billdo - what no more Big Gulp in NYC ? Are you for real. Sounds like a good title for a Hub . lol.

billd01603 (author) from Worcester on February 21, 2013:

Que Scout, Thanks for reading and commenting. I understand cigarettes are dirty and dangerous. But as an adult I have the right to chose what I put in my body!!! I worry that the US will get like that. Large sodas are already illegal in New York City!

Steve from Fiji on February 21, 2013:

Hi billd0 "Nanny State" is how the current government in Australia operates.

Tobacco advertising has been banned for more than 15 years, all packaging can only have the brand/type printed on the pack in plain text on one side, all sides must bear pictures of hospital patients and warnings. The packaging must be completely generic, without logos or color images. see http://www.scilogs.com/sifting_the_evidence/tobacc...

A packet of 20 cigs in Australia will set you back US$15 to $19.00 depending on the brand. The price is legislated to increase by at least 15% per year.

Australia's next plan is to stop the sale of cigarettes to people born after the year 2000. Effectively making the sale of tobacco illegal as time goes by.

billd01603 (author) from Worcester on February 07, 2013:

Thanks for reading Augustus

Augustus Foster on February 07, 2013:

Oh, we most certianly could afford to lose the revenue, just stop electing those that like to spend so much.

billd01603 (author) from Worcester on December 30, 2012:

Another dangerous product! Thanks for bringing it up Jim Bales. Thanks for reading

Jim Bales on December 30, 2012:

Why then is it also allowed to advertise mind altering drugs and other habit forming dangerous medications on radio and TV. The so called "legal" drugs are just as dangerous as the "recreational" drugs.

All these shootings across the nation are from people that are on psychotropic drugs.. Even the disclaimers say side affects are suicidal and homicidal thoughts. What makes that okay? Case in point...An upstanding citizen in Charlotte N.C. was on depression medication that pushed him over the edge and he murdered his little twin daughters in cold blood. He never would have done this had he not been medicated. Too many people are self diagnosing their own physical and mental conditions from these TV ads and running to the doctor who is just waiting for them to ask for such and such a medication. The Pharmaceutical companies are making it profitable for the Dr. to prescribe their drugs. This is true data.

billd01603 (author) from Worcester on July 29, 2012:

Hey Life, thanks for reading! I never thought of what would happen to the insurance and drug companys should cigarettes be banned. And they would take away a huge portion of the tax revenue. In today's economy, that's one thing we can't afford.

Colleen Lyon from Kansas City, Missouri on July 29, 2012:

I completely agree with your hub. Your point that if you allow choices to be taken away, it is a very slippery slope, is spot on. I chuckled when I saw autos and fast food in your list, I expected the alcohol. Very creative and true. You can not pick and choose what freedoms of choice we have. If we have the right to choose, then we have that right. It seems though that society needs specific groups that are encouraged targets. Smokers and cigarette companies are definitely the most popular and have been for ages. It's funny though, because two of the biggest driving forces in this country certainly do not want people to quit, and they are the insurance companies and the drug companies. They are making millions on this one product. Also, can you imagine what would happen to the Dept. of Revenue if tobacco sales were banned? The majority of the money paid for cigarettes goes to them in the form of taxes. The country would be crippled. Thanks for writing, C.

billd01603 (author) from Worcester on July 01, 2012:

Thanks for reading kay

kay on June 04, 2012:

Well obviously you just answered your own question at least partially. Fred and Barney like their Winston? Who are their advertising to? Kids obviously. The cigerrette companies advertise to young teens so that they can get them hooked young just incase something happens to burn their profits ( like banning their commercials). There is a baby on Indonesia smoking since 18 months. Kids are allowed to buy cigerrettes there. I agree there are other dangerous things like alcohol ( which I think was banned in the 1930s initially) but at least alcohol doesn't cause second hand illnesses, diseases, or cancers. It causes serious accidents true but cigerrettes can cause second hand cancer and is addictive. I think cigerrettes are too dangerous and anything that helps to get people to stop it welcome on my eyes.

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