Washington, D.C. November 17, 1998—The Competitive Enterprise Institute today announced its opposition to the latest tobacco settlement, calling it an affront to both individual rights and First Amendment freedoms. "The settlement enshrines the notion that cigarette smoking is a crime perpetrated by the tobacco industry on unwitting victims," said Gregory Conko, a CEI policy analyst.
The requirement that cigarette manufacturers pay $200 billion to states for smoking related illnesses covered by Medicaid programs is based on the two notions (1) that people are unaware of the danger of smoking and are incapable of quitting once they’ve begun, and (2) that state governments are somehow entitled to collect money as a result. But, despite the tobacco industry’s history of denying the risks of smoking, Americans have known for decades that smoking is bad for their health. And while quitting can be very difficult, nearly 50 million Americans have done so—most of them without any help. Forcing tobacco companies to pay for illnesses lets individual smokers off the hook for their own choices.
In prohibiting most outdoor advertising and the distribution of promotional merchandise, the settlement also raises important First Amendment issues. Cigarettes are legal products. Consequently, restrictions on advertising arbitrarily single them out solely because they are politically unpopular. "As the television ad ban has shown, across-the-board restrictions on cigarette advertising may actually enhance tobacco industry profits," said Conko. "But there are real losers here: the public and the First Amendment."
"Although the agreement is ostensibly voluntary," Conko added, "it’s clear that the states were holding a gun the heads of tobacco industry representatives. By conceding so many of their rights, the industry is making it harder for the next unpopular product condemned by regulators." Already, other products—such as alcohol, handguns, and fatty foods—have been targeted for penalization because some behavior associated with them can be shown to cost public health programs money. This is an issue that should concern all Americans.
CEI, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group founded in 1984, is dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government. For more information, contact Emily McGee, director of public relations, at 202-331-1010.