His approach rests on an unwarranted faith in the power of government to bend behavior. Jon P. Nelson, an economist at Penn State, has studied tobacco advertising restrictions in various countries, and his research indicates the advocates are blowing smoke.
"I don't find that advertising bans have any effect on youth smoking outcomes," he told me. "I don't find they have any effect on cigarette consumption."
He notes that in 2001, Canada imposed its own system of graphic warnings. And guess what? "I'm not aware of any convincing research that it actually changed cigarette consumption or smoking prevalence," he says.
District Judge Richard Leon, however, was not concerned with whether the required labels are likely to be effective. He was concerned with whether they are constitutional -- and he concluded they are not.
The First Amendment guarantees not only the right to speak, but the right to be silent. The warnings are a form of compulsory speech, which is permitted only in rare cases, such as protecting consumers from deception. In those instances, Leon noted, the government can require companies to furnish "purely factual or uncontroversial information."
But this law goes way beyond merely letting people know that smoking can kill -- which, by the way, is akin to letting people know the sun is hot. The government's "emphasis on the images' ability to provoke emotion," wrote Leon, "strongly suggests that the government's (SET ITAL) actual (END ITAL) purpose is not to inform, but rather to advocate a change in consumer behavior."
If our elected leaders and bureaucrats want to advocate a change in consumer behavior, they are entitled to. But they can't do it by commandeering the packages of a legal product, over the objections and at the expense of the manufacturer.
It's the equivalent of requiring new cars to be adorned with giant photos of bloody crash scenes or Big Mac containers to depict an obese corpse. Cigarette companies, Leon said, may not be forced to serve as messengers for anti-tobacco crusaders.
Nobody loves tobacco companies. But freedom is not just for those we love.
Steve Chapman blogs daily at newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/steve_chapman. To find out more about Steve Chapman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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