Dear Mr. President:
Teenage smoking is something we all want to discourage. Whether the specific steps you've recently instructed the FDA to take will have that effect is another question. Whether they're constitutional is something the courts will decide. Restricting a product that's legally made and legally sold in such a sweeping way seems to me to strike at the heart of freedom of commercial speech.
The other question is-how practical are the restrictions? Many of them will simply call the attention of young people to do what their elders (whom they don't necessarily consider their betters) don't want them to do and guess what effect that's likely to have? Encourage it to become a cult activity. We have an education system that can teach our youth. Why don't you encourage parents and educators to use it more effectively? Restriction at the retail outlet? I've yet to meet a tobacco manufacturer who would claim to have control over what happens with his retailers. Suggest to the state and local government that enforcing existing law will be far more effective. The solution will be found at the local not federal level.
We're not the first ones to address the issue, although your proposals make no mention of what other countries' experience has been. Perhaps you don't know, for instance, that in countries where there is a total ban-like Canada and Norway-cigarette consumption has actually increased? (Canada, you'll notice, has recently reversed its ban.) In countries where advertising is permitted as long as it includes health warnings (like the U.K.), there is a steady decrease, particularly among children. No advertising-no advertising warnings-consumption goes up and the percentage of filter cigarette growth is much slower.
In country after country, irrespective of culture, the evidence is consistent. Tobacco advertising with warnings does not increase the size of the market or encourage the smoking habit in almost every country. It allows the brands to compete for existing market share. With the proper warnings, there is every indication that commercial freedom of choice provides information for the consumer to make a choice. Social forces and peer group pressure create the young smoker. If you want more facts, many of us will be glad to provide as many of them as you care to read.
We share your objective but we believe your solution might easily make things worse. More information is preferable to less information. The First Amendment protection of commercial freedom of speech works-with the proper warnings now in place. Parents have responsibilities, as do educators. They should work together to get programs that will educate via school systems on a continuous basis.
Otherwise, what's on the table looks an awful lot like censorship. Why try something that has proved not to work in many countries, when there are far better methods that will and do?
Philip H. Geier Jr.
The flap over DMB&B's alleged stealing of a Moffat/Rosenthal creative approach (AA, Oct. 30) reminds me of the debuts of the British/French Concorde and the Soviet-built SST back in the early 1970s. The Concorde was unveiled first. When the Soviet SST appeared soon after, it so resembled the Concorde that it was mockingly called "The Concorde-ski," with allegations flying that the Soviets had somehow stolen Western technology in order to build their version.
Curiously, it was the celebrated French aircraft designer Dassault who defended the Soviets, noting that, given aerodynamic constraints imposed on both teams of engineers, it would have been more unusual if the two designs had differed.
Considering that most marketing communications challenges are similar from one product or service to another (even if those involved like to think otherwise), DMB&B is probably guilty of little more than universally logical thinking.
Collingwood Harris Advertising
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