Category Archive 'Tobacco Bill'

22 Jun 2009

Cigarette Control and Speech Control

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Steve Chapman, writing in Reason, notes that Congress just proved all over again that our elected representatives never believe in letting the Bill of Rights get in the way of saving Americans from themselves.

(T)he tobacco regulation bill recently passed by Congress indicates that the spirit of liberty is even scarcer than usual in the halls of government.

What motivates advocates of stricter tobacco regulation is the unassailable assurance that they are not only completely right but that their opponents are a) wrong and b) evil. This invigorating certitude makes it possible to justify almost anything that punishes cigarette companies, even if it does no actual good—or does actual harm.

One of the main purposes of the new law is to reduce the number of smokers in the name of improving “public health.” This is a skillful use of language to confuse rather than enlighten.

An individual decision to take up cigarettes is a private event, not a public one, and its health effects are almost entirely confined to the individual making the choice. …
Cigarette makers are forbidden to use color in ads in any publication whose readership is less than 85 percent adult. They are barred from using music in audio ads. They are not allowed to use pictures in video ads. They may not put product names on race cars, lighters, caps, or T-shirts. From all this, you almost forget the fleeting passage in the Constitution that says “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”

When it gets in a mood to regulate, Congress doesn’t like to trouble itself with nuisances like the First Amendment. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for Massachusetts to ban outdoor ads within 1,000 feet of any schools and playgrounds. So what does this law do? It bans outdoor ads within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.

The Court said the Massachusetts law was intolerable because it choked off communication about a legal activity. “In some geographical areas,” complained Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, “these regulations would constitute nearly a complete ban on the communication of truthful information about smokeless tobacco and cigars to adult consumers.”

But to anti-smoking zealots, that effect is not a bug but a feature. The only problem they have with imposing “nearly a complete ban” is the “nearly” part.

Read the whole thing.


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