Free Speech for Tobacco

There I was, enjoying a relaxing long Labor Day weekend of golf, cigars, barbecue and camaraderie, when I read an editorial so horrible - so us tobacco flaganti-tobacco and anti-freedom - that it needed a response. The New York Times took to it’s hallowed pages to write “Big Tobacco Strikes Back” - an editorial against a lawsuit filed by tobacco companies seeking to challenge new restrictions on advertising created by the recent bill that subjects tobacco to the jurisdiction of the FDA.

The title itself speaks to the problems with the article. “Big Tobacco” may not be a mom and pop operation, but their up against something far bigger, the federal government. So if it’s “Big Tobacco” who are they striking back against, “Colossal Government”?

And then there’s the issue of who is actually suing to advance their free speech rights. You wouldn’t know it from editorial, but the “tobacco companies” at issue don’t include the largest cigarette company in the world, Altria.

Altria, with over 40 percent market share in cigarettes, was a key supporter of the FDA regulation bill. The company knows that the bill’s advertising restrictions will protect its dominant market share. Those restrictions includes bans on sponsorships for sporting events, bans on ads using anything other than black text on a white background, and a ban on advertising products as light or safer, even if truthful.

The Times, and the anti-smoking lobbyists who no doubt inform its opinion, take the position that advertising of tobacco products can be banned if children might be exposed to it - never mind that the ads target adults, and it would be virtually impossible to advertise to adults without some exposure by children. And perhaps even worse, their opposition to tobacco companies informing consumers of how to reduce the harms caused by smoking, leaves smokers in the dark about ways to reduce risks. (As to any false claims that cigarette companies might make, surely there are enough trial lawyers looking for a payday to ensure that companies don’t lie about their products.)

The editorial’s view isn’t compatible with the Constitution’s protections of Free Speech, enshrined in the First Amendment. After all, a corporation is just a group of shareholders who all have the right to tell their fellow citizens about their legal product. Which is why the editorial amounts to nothing more than a screed against companies attempting to assert the rights guaranteed to them by the U.S. Constitution.

Which brings me to cigars. Us cigar smokers aren’t always pleased with cigarette companies, but we should support this effort to overturn the FDA’s anti-freee speech ban, because it isn’t just a hypothetical that cigars will be their next target. They already are.

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