Tobacco Ethics, Part 2

Oil execs must wake up every day and thank their lucky stars that there are tobacco companies out their making oil companies look good in comparison.

Yesterday, I blogged about a plan by RJ Reynolds to spend a lot of money to promote a new brand aimed specifically at women.

Now comes news that 3 tobacco companies will challenge a Canadian law that restricts cigarette advertising in various ways, including forcing companies to place graphic health warnings (like the one above) on cigarette packages.

Here’s the story, as told by the Halifax Chronicle Herald’s Christopher Maughan: Tobacco industry challenges ad laws

Canada’s three major tobacco companies are at the Supreme Court arguing for looser restrictions on tobacco advertising, saying the current law is so vague it amounts to a total ban and violates the companies’ constitutional right to advertise.
Under the current federal Tobacco Act, cigarette manufacturers can advertise in adult-only public places, in certain magazines, and through direct mail. But few companies have actually bothered because of what they say is a vague section of the Tobacco Act aimed at forbidding advertising aimed at kids.

The debate over freedom of commercial speech is a complicated one. Freedom of speech is a dearly-held freedom in all civilized parts of the world. But does that right extend to corporations? When you limit the free speech of a corporation, are you effectively limiting the free speech of the people who collectively make up the corporation? What kinds of ill effects must be anticipated from commercial speech before we’re justified in restricting it. Or are restrictions never justified?

I’ll just add one further thought, specific to the current case: It’s hard to square the tobacco companies’ opposition to limits on advertising with their claim (which they often make) that their ads are only aimed at converting people who currently smoke to their brand. The limit on advertising affect all firms equally (well, except that it’s tougher on new firms, firms that don’t have well-established brands). So, generally, big tobacco can only complain if it sees the limit on advertising as preventing them from expanding the total number of smokers, something they have claimed not to be trying to do.
So, evern IF they’re right that the limit on advertising is a wrongful restriction of commercial speech…why exactly are they bothering to fight it? Please don’t try to tell me that they’re doing it on principle.

Thanks to Lorraine for alerting me to this story!

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