Big Tobacco lit the Fairness Doctrine

No one has seen a cigarette ad on TV since New Year’s Day 1971, when a ban on such ads by Congress went into effect. Congress usually gets the credit for “defeating” the tobacco companies, yet the ban was actually sought by Big Tobacco because of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine — and the efforts of a young activist to invoke it.
In 1966, John Banzhaf petitioned the FCC to apply the Fairness Doctrine to remedy the one-sided view conveyed in radio and TV cigarette ads that smoking was a glamorous, enjoyable activity (its dangers were left unsaid). The FCC agreed and, beginning in 1967, ordered every broadcaster to air one anti-smoking message for each nine or 10 cigarette ads it aired.
Broadcasters grudgingly complied, but not in prime time (it would have meant displacing big-revenue ads). In 1969 the FCC said that wouldn’t do, compelling stations to shift those anti-smoking messages from 2 a.m. to mid-evening. Thus the more Big Tobacco spent, the more prime time they provided for the “anti” messages. It began to hurt business.
That same year, the Supreme Court agreed that smoking was a public issue worthy of an opposing view and upheld the FCC’s right to apply the Fairness Doctrine to remedy the imbalance.
By then, each tobacco company yearned to shift its ad budgets away from broadcasting. Yet each was reluctant to abandon the medium to its competitors. So in 1970, the tobacco companies jointly sought and embraced the congressional ban — and then rushed to redeploy their ad dollars toward magazines, billboards, newspapers and direct mail. The Marlboro Man rode silently into print (unchallenged there by “fairness” concerns), eventually to be joined by Joe Camel.
In his 1970 book, “How to Talk Back to Your Television Set,” FCC Commissioner Nicholas Johnson wrote, “Mr. Banzhaf won. A potential of 50 to 100 million dollars’ worth of free anti-smoking commercials were soon being presented in the course of a year over radio and television. Through his simple act and investment in a six-cent stamp, he had produced a result that federal officials and hundreds of thousands of concerned Americans had been unable to bring about: cigarette consumption declined in our nation for one of the first times in its history.”
Broadcast law has decreed from the get-go that the domestic airwaves are “owned” by our citizens. Through the FCC, we license their use to broadcast companies who agree to serve our local communities. Accepting advertising makes it possible for most of them to do so.
But as we saw with Big Tobacco, advertising’s cumulative effects are not always benign. A lie can be embedded as truth through the power of unopposed repetition, especially when massively funded. And those lies are not always dressed up in bright colors on talk shows for the world to see (and to debate). How did we access “our” airwaves to challenge such lies? The Fairness Doctrine provided a way.
Like all laws, it was sometimes over-invoked by zealots. But that’s what dismissals are for. Most public issues do have enough funding on both sides to make their voices heard without help from a Fairness Doctrine. Think Cape Wind versus its foes. And free speech can certainly take care of itself, even on unregulated cable (Sean Hannity, meet Keith Olbermann).
Yet despite what its critics say, the Fairness Doctrine was never meant to balance Roarin’ Rush with a compensatory side order of Al Franken. When selectively and wisely applied, it provided a useful remedy on those rare occasions when converging commercial interests implied — via broadcast — only one side of an issue affecting us all.
Richard Teimer of Centerville, a former DJ on WCOD, has syndicated his Time Capsule radio series nationally since 1977.

Long Beach puts smoking lounges on hold

No new smoking lounges will be allowed in Long Beach for one year following the City Council’s approval Tuesday of a moratorium on the businesses.
The move was spurred by some council members’ concerns about how an amended smoking law that they approved just over a month ago would be regulated. That law altered the city’s 15-year-old, groundbreaking ban on smoking in public places to allow smoking venues such as cigar and hookah lounges.
Although the council approved the ordinance amendment last month 6-2, Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, who called for the moratorium along with council members Rae Gabelich and Gary DeLong, said Tuesday the decision was premature.
“I feel as though the council put the cart before the horse when this item was passed last month,” Lowenthal said. “Without a regulatory process in place, our ability to monitor and enforce this ordinance is severely limited.”
The council voted 7-0 to enact the moratorium. Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga, who had first proposed allowing smoking lounges, was absent.
Several cigar lounges and more recently hookah lounges have been operating illegally with few repercussions since the Long Beach anti-smoking ordinance, among the first of its kind in California, was passed in 1993.
Opponents used a petition drive to force the law onto the ballot, but it was still overwhelmingly approved by voters in 1994.
Under the revised law that the council approved last month, smoking lounges may operate only if they exist for the sole purpose of smoking and do not sell food or drinks.
Also, the lounges must provide a separate ventilation system to exhaust the smoky air to prevent affecting connected properties, and no one under 18 years old may enter the smoking lounges.
Lowenthal’s concerns are that the new law doesn’t include clear standards, policies or regulations for businesses to meet the lounge requirements; for what makes an appropriate ventilation system; for any fees that may be needed to permit a smoking lounge; or for how complaints and non-compliance with the regulations might be handled.
“For us to leave it ambiguous is irresponsible,” Lowenthal said. “Additionally, we’re concerned that this recent change in our ordinance will lead to a proliferation of tobacco shops throughout the city.”
During the moratorium, city staff members are to create a regulation program for smoking lounges, including possible limits on the number of tobacco-related businesses that will be allowed to open smoking lounges.
Several anti-smoking advocates voiced their support for the moratorium, though they made it clear they still would have preferred that smoking lounges had never been allowed.
Meanwhile, Long Beach resident and rapper Pearl Williams said outside the council chambers that he was disappointed by the decision, which put the moratorium immediately into effect.
After the council’s decision to allow smoking lounges last month, Williams said he had hoped to open a hookah lounge.
“What’s the purpose of the moratorium?” Williams said. “If you’re going to let existing lounges operate, why not let the new ones operate?”
Street repair agreement
In other business Tuesday, the council made a surprisingly smooth and quick decision on how to appropriate street repair funding among Long Beach’s nine districts.
The action came after weeks of often contentious bickering over how to divide up the funding and whether to include Redevelopment Area money, which is targeted at eliminating blight, in the equation.
The council unanimously approved an allocation formula that had been presented by Councilwoman Rae Gabelich at last week’s meeting.
Under the plan, half of any new citywide funds for residential street repairs will be divided equally among the council districts.
The remaining half of the money will be distributed among the districts based on each district’s percentage of need compared with the entire city. The percentage will be calculated with the dollar value for streets that have a Pavement Condition Index below 70percent, as assessed by the city’s 10-year repair plan or by future need assessments.

Two members of the Hells Angels suspects in contraband tobacco ring

Two members of the Hells Angels were yesterday targeted across the province as the RCMP rounded up suspects in contraband tobacco ring.
They said that the group bought cigarettes produced on the Kahnawake and distributed them in the Quebec City region while using violence and intimidation to collect money and establish their turf.
Dumas, a founding member of the Quebec City chapter, only recently completed an eight-year prison term for the attempted murder of a rival gang member shot in 1996.
Roberge also has served a lengthy prison term, for taking part in an arson fire that killed a person in Quebec City in 1996.
RCMP Sgt. Luc Bessette said that during the investigation, dubbed Project Château, investigators learned money generated from the sale of contraband tobacco was reinvested into another illegal scheme.
“We knew that the organized crime (group) was involved in illicit tobacco sales, and now we hope to be able to prove in court that the profits of those sales were used to produce drugs that were sold in the Quebec City region,” Bessette told a news conference in Quebec City.
The RCMP said it is the first time charges of gangsterism have been laid against members of a biker gang for trafficking of contraband tobacco.
Twenty-two people in all were sought as the RCMP carried out arrests in the Quebec City region and areas south of Montreal. By late morning, 19 people were arrested and another was expected to surrender to the Mounties. Roberge and one other person were not arrested and are believed to be out of the country.
Two men from Kahnawake were among the people named in indictments filed in Quebec City yesterday.
Federal crown prosecutor Josée Belanger said the 22 people are part of an organized network and all face charges of gangsterism as well as offences related to the sale of contraband tobacco. Roberge faces additional charges of drug trafficking, possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking and conspiracy to traffic in drugs.
Police seized nearly 300 cases of contraband tobacco as well as 20,000 methamphetamine pills. They also uncovered a clandestine drug lab in Waterloo, in the Eastern Townships, that produced speed.
The RCMP conducted the investigation in collaboration with provincial police and the Quebec City police. The first nations police force of Wendake, a reserve near Quebec City, and police in St. Jean sur Richelieu also played a role in the investigation, Bessette said.

Tobacco Industry against Tobacco Control

The tobacco industry has historically employed a multitude of tactics to shape and influence tobacco control policy. The tobacco industry has used its economic power, lobbying and marketing machinery, and manipulation of the media to discredit scientific research and influence governments in order to propagate the sale and distribution of its deadly product.  Furthermore, the tobacco industry continues to inject large philanthropic contributions into social programs worldwide to create a positive public image under the guise of corporate social responsibility.  This document describes the spectrum of tobacco industry practices that interfere with tobacco control.  As an outcome of the first meeting of tobacco industry monitoring experts convened by WHO at the offices of PAHO in October 2007, this report exposes these practices and provides the Contracting Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and other WHO Member States the background and contextual information that may assist in implementing the WHO FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines against tobacco industry interference with tobacco control.

Effective tool for tobacco control?

“Islam can be used as an effective tool for tobacco control among Muslims, who constitute 22 percent of the world’s population,” Lath Yahya Ibrahim Mula Hussain, an oncologist from Iraq, told IANS.
“It is a hard fact that most Muslims have fallen prey to tobacco. Islam is a powerful tool that can be used to guide the lives of Muslims across the globe but it ought to be used effectively,” said Hussain.
He added that a large number of Muslim scholars and clerics are not convinced about tobacco being dangerous and hence haven’t taken steps to prohibit it.
“I believe that we can make a beginning by using those scholars who think tobacco should be banned,” Hussain said.
The oncologist pointed out that there are 1.2 billion Muslims globally, second only to Christians. Also, the number of those following Islam is growing at 2.9 percent – faster than the 2.3 percent annual growth in world population.
Hence, he feels it is important to target Muslims to ensure reduction in tobacco consumption.
Hussain proposed his idea to the delegates at the conference Wednesday and got the support of many experts, particularly from Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Bangladesh and Malaysia.
Early this year, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued an edict forbidding children and pregnant women from smoking, and banning smoking in public places. The council declared that smoking for Muslims was between haram (forbidden) and makruh (objectionable).
Last year, a major crackdown on smoking was launched in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, which ranks fourth in the world in tobacco imports and consumption. Each year Saudis smoke more than 15 billion cigarettes, worth $168 million, according to figures issued by the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Health Ministers Council.
Hussain said that although there is no direct mention of smoking being evil in the Quran, some reference can be used to spread awareness about the ill effects of tobacco.
“In the Quran, Al-Nissa 29 states, ‘do not kill yourself nor kill one another, surely God is most merciful to you’,” he said.
“Al-Isra 26 asks Muslims to not to spend wastefully in the manner of spendthrift,” Hussain added.
Tobacco use is expected to kill six million people worldwide and drain $500 billion from the global economy each year, reveals the latest edition of the “Tobacco Atlas” released here Monday.
The World Conference on Tobacco or Health – the largest meet of anti-tobacco advocates, health experts, scientists and educators – was held in India for the first time this year.
More than 2,000 delegates attended the conference that began March 8 and concluded Thursday.

Tobacco displays given more time

Small retailers are to be given an extra two years to remove tobacco displays from their shops, the Scottish Government has announced.

Public Health Minister Shona Robison said the move was designed to minimise the impact on smaller businesses.
A ban on cigarette displays at the point of sale is a key proposal in a recently published government bill.
Large retailers such as supermarkets will have until 2011 to implement the ban, and smaller retailers until 2013.
The Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Bill is expected to become law later this year.
Ms Robison said: “Point of sale marketing is a powerful tool – particularly among young people. I believe it’s inappropriate for cigarettes to be promoted in this way and our bill proposes banning their display at point of sale.
“My aspiration is for Scotland to become smoke-free, but I also want it to be prosperous.
“That’s why, following liaison with retailers, we have taken steps to minimise the impact of the display ban by giving small retailers an extra two years to implement the measures.”
Ms Robison will formally announce the extension for small retailers at the National Federation of Retail Newsagents’ Scottish conference in Cumbernauld on Monday.

Beijing Hospitals Begin To Control Smoking

From now until the end of January 2010, 2,800 clinicians from seven hospitals in Beijing will work on controlling their cigarette smoking.
The seven hospitals are reported to be Beijing Friendship Hospital, Beijing Xuanwu Hospital, Beijing Tiantan Hospital, Peking Union Medical College Hospital, Tongren Hospital, Fuxing Hospital, and Jishuitan Hospital. Each of the hospitals will select 400 clinicians from such key departments as the respiratory medicine department and the cardiovascular and cerebrovascular department.
To realize a 100% smoking-free environment, the seven hospitals will put signs and bulletin boards at prominent areas such as the outpatient hall, the wards, examination rooms and corridors to advise patients and their families that they should not smoke. The hospitals will arrange special inspectors to stop doctors or patients who are breaking the rules.
In addition, each hospital will set up a smoking control technology and mental support team. And they are required to make a complete set of smoking control related review and penalty rules before March 20, 2009. Those locations which have the relevant conditions are also required to set up an outpatient department for smoking control.
By 2008, 217 hospitals in Beijing had joined the smoke-free campaign.

Legislation will place tobacco under the control of the Food and Drug Administration

In what appears to be the best chance since public health groups started pushing for it in the 1970s, Congress is poised to regulate tobacco, a product linked to 1,200 deaths each day but sold largely unfettered for centuries.

Legislation that the House Energy and Commerce Committee will take up today would place tobacco under the control of the Food and Drug Administration. Among other things, the bill would restrict the ways tobacco companies market cigarettes, require them to disclose the ingredients in their products and place larger warning labels on packages, and give the FDA the authority to require the removal of harmful chemicals and additives from cigarettes.
The legislation also seeks to crack down on techniques tobacco companies have used to attract children and teenagers, making it illegal to produce cigarettes infused with strawberry, grape, cloves and other sweet flavors. And it would prohibit tobacco makers from using the terms “low tar” and “light” when describing their products, suggesting a health benefit that scientists say does not exist.
Still, some critics say the bill, largely the product of years of negotiation between cigarette giant Philip Morris and the advocacy group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, does not go far enough.
“This is a big gift to Philip Morris and a big scam,” said Joel L. Nitzkin, chairman of the tobacco-control task force of the American Association of Public Health Physicians. “Our initial impression was, ‘Gee, this would be great.’ But when we read through the entire 160 pages, we were horrified by what we saw.”
Nitzkin said, for instance, that the bill has a grandfather clause that protects products currently on the market but creates hurdles for new products such as low-nicotine lozenges that deliver a nicotine dose but are not smoked and therefore pose no risk of lung disease and a much-reduced chance of heart disease.
Tobacco is linked to the death of more than 400,000 Americans each year and costs the nation $96 billion in health care annually, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Every day, more than 1,000 children and teenagers become regular smokers.
“It’s crazy — here’s this product that kills half of its longtime users, and there are very few restrictions on how it’s made and marketed,” said Patricia McDaniel, a sociologist at the University of California at San Francisco who has studied the history behind the bill.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for the FDA to do some pretty remarkable things: adding more visible warning labels, banning misleading descriptors, some authority over ingredients and allowing the FDA to prohibit certain types of marketing,” she said. “But there are a lot of unknowns. And there are questions about whether the FDA is the agency to regulate tobacco, especially now with the trouble it’s having regulating food and drugs.”
What is more, consumers may get the impression that tobacco is safe if it is regulated by the government, McDaniel said.
Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, acknowledged the contradiction.
“Cigarettes and cigars are drug-delivery systems, delivering an addictive drug — nicotine — in a product that kills when used as directed,” said Zuckerman, whose group supports the bill. “How can the FDA justify regulating, rather than banning, those products? On the other hand, if the FDA regulates tobacco products, it can stop misleading advertising and help prevent the sale of tobacco products to children. That will save lives.”