September 06, 2009

To Sue or Not: A P.R. Decision?

Several major tobacco companies have filed suit to overturn new advertising limitations imposed by Congress on First Amendment grounds.

This raises the question of why they didn't sue to overturn the ban on broadcast advertising imposed in 1970. My take is that they realized it would be bad p.r., and they felt they could direct their marketing dollars to other media and not suffer any loss of impact.

So why have they filed now? I think they realize they have lost the p.r. battle anyhow, and thus fighting for their rights now won't hurt.

I'm not an attorney, but I believe the 1970 broadcast ban as well as the new ban on outdoor advertising and sports sponsorships do violate the First Amendment and big tobacco will win this case. While I think it appropriate to require warning messages on these products and their advertising, I don't see how you can by law limit the speech of someone selling a legal product.

I do not expect to see a return to broadcast advertising only because those media would face a firestorm of criticism.

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