I found two very interesting things in this week's Reader [March 18], the article by Patrick Griffin suggesting that the banning of tobacco could be a good thing and a handout, "Joe's Place," very cleverly promoting Camel cigarettes. This combination set me thinking; while the outlawing of tobacco is sure to lead to some very harmful consequences, the banning of such advertising could help solve the massive health problem presented to our society by tobacco.
An outright ban on tobacco would almost certainly save some lives for the reasons Griffin outlines: it would become more difficult to obtain and consume. Unfortunately it would also mean the creation of a massive new illegal business that would dwarf the present illegal drug trade and make outlaws out of millions of smokers, farmers, and merchants. Since today tobacco is used disproportionately by lower income and blue collar workers the ban would smack of the kind of class bias that helped destroy the legitimacy of prohibition. The costs of enforcement in dollars and lives ruined by violence, corruption, and lawlessness is impossible to measure but would certainly be much greater than the toll of the current drug war, which is crowding our courts and prisons.
On the other hand the banning of tobacco advertising would be easy to enforce and would injure only the economic interest of magazines, billboard companies, etc. No one can honestly be certain how much Joe Camel promotes smoking, but there is evidence that this cute and friendly character and the type of slick ad that appears in the insert, which associates smoking with sociability, sophistication and sexuality, does influence the young to take up the habit. There is no moral or social justification for such advertising; it may make money for some but at an unacceptably high cost in human lives.
A ban on tobacco advertising would not be unconstitutional; the Supreme Court has already ruled that such commercial speech isn't protected. Of course a publication like the Reader might be concerned about the loss of revenue, but the public health is more important to most people than the profits to be made by selling death. Since tobacco is killing hundreds of thousands each year we should do what we can to discourage its use by increasing taxes, restoring the very effective TV public service antismoking ads, and banning advertising and promotions of this deadly but all too seductive and addictive product.
S. Hyde Park Blvd.