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January 1, 2005
Anti-Tobacco Efforts Get A Little Weird

I normally support efforts to remove tobacco influences from minors, especially as a former smoker myself. However, the lawsuits that plagued the tobacco industry for several years bothered me tremendously, as did the capitulation of the growers to what I felt was legal blackmail. After all, tobacco products have carried warnings about their deadly effects for over four decades -- and anyone foolish enough to start smoking (or not to stop) should be understood to have willing borne the health risks.

The settlement proscribed the advertising that tobacco companies could use to promote their products, ostensibly to avoid the aforementioned influence on minors. Again, some of the restrictions made sense. However, the Ohio Supreme Court has managed to push the settlement into another expression of foolishness:

Matchbooks given out at bars and stores cannot bear advertising for cigarettes or other tobacco products under the 1998 settlement involving 46 states and the major tobacco companies, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled.

Such promotional matchbooks fit the definition of merchandise and are governed by the ban on youth-oriented tobacco marketing in the settlement, which included Ohio, the court ruled unanimously on Thursday.

Matches as "merchandise"? The ban on merchandise intended on eliminating a promotional strategy by the tobacco companies to aim at younger smokers. Brand names turned up on jackets, caps, sports bags, and all sorts of other items, and smokers could use proofs of purchase for discounts or free items. Some of the less expensive materials were given away at promotions.

But matches have one purpose: lighting fires. Not even a tobacco-fighting lobbyist could imagine anyone handing out matchbooks to young kids for any kind of promotion. Restaurants hand them out for advertising -- but not to teens! Merchandise restrictions were meant for those items whose primary use wasn't lighting a cigarette. Indeed, one could say that the cigarette packs themselves represent advertising merchandise just as much as the matches.

The tobacco paranoia has long gotten out of hand, and the settlements states reached with tobacco producers have so many opportunities for mischief that Congress should look into the entire mess. (In Minnesota, the settlement did nothing but make Michael Ceresi richer than Croesus while the money that the state supposedly got for anti-tobacco efforts simply disappeared into the general fund instead.) These settlements promise more courtroom silliness in the years ahead unless Congress steps in and forces people to simply be responsible for their own actions. Smoking a cigarette is a choice, not something forced on anyone -- and if we can't accept responsibility for our own choices, the nanny state that proceeds from that will slowly choke off all our freedoms.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 1, 2005 9:02 PM

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