Cigarette Ads Are Banned from Broadcast Media

Cigarette advertising was banned from broadcast media in the United States after passage of the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act. Two voluntary agreements were reached between the FTC and cigarette manufacturers, whereby the companies agreed to list tar and nicotine content in their radio and television advertising and also agreed to feature health warning labels in print advertising.

Summary of Event

The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which banned cigarette advertising from radio and television in the United States, took effect January 1, 1971. The law also allowed the Federal Trade Commission Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to consider warnings in printed advertising after July 1, 1971. Warnings on cigarette packages were changed, and under the act, the FTC was required to give the U.S. Congress six months notice of any pending changes in rules concerning cigarettes. The legislation was signed by President Richard M. Nixon on April 1, 1970. Advertising
Commerce, government regulation of
Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969 (1970)
[kw]Cigarette Ads Are Banned From Broadcast Media (Apr. 1, 1970)
[kw]Ads Are Banned From Broadcast Media, Cigarette (Apr. 1, 1970)
[kw]Broadcast Media, Cigarette Ads Are Banned From (Apr. 1, 1970)
[kw]Media, Cigarette Ads Are Banned From Broadcast (Apr. 1, 1970)
Commerce, government regulation of
Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969 (1970)
[g]North America;Apr. 1, 1970: Cigarette Ads Are Banned From Broadcast Media[10760]
[g]United States;Apr. 1, 1970: Cigarette Ads Are Banned From Broadcast Media[10760]
[c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Apr. 1, 1970: Cigarette Ads Are Banned From Broadcast Media[10760]
[c]Marketing and advertising;Apr. 1, 1970: Cigarette Ads Are Banned From Broadcast Media[10760]
[c]Radio and television;Apr. 1, 1970: Cigarette Ads Are Banned From Broadcast Media[10760]
[c]Health and medicine;Apr. 1, 1970: Cigarette Ads Are Banned From Broadcast Media[10760]
Terry, Luther L.
Moss, Frank E.
Cullman, Joseph F., III
Bennett, Wallace F.
Banzhaf, John F., III

Pressure to curb cigarette advertising originated with a 1939 study that for the first time scientifically linked smoking with lung cancer. Between 1950 and 1954, fourteen major studies linked cigarette smoking with specific serious diseases. In response to these studies, cigarette manufacturers created the Tobacco Industry Research Committee Tobacco Industry Research Committee , a lobby group to fund research on the use and health effects of tobacco. The group later changed its name to the Council for Tobacco Research—United States of America. In 1957, the Legal and Monetary Affairs Subcommittee of the House Government Operations Committee held six days of congressional hearings, with John A. Blatnik Blatnik, John A. as the chair. As a result of these hearings, Senator Wallace F. Bennett introduced a bill that would require cigarette packs to carry warning labels, and Senator Richard L. Neuberger Neuberger, Richard L. proposed removing tobacco from the list of crops that qualify for agricultural price supports. Five years later, in 1962, U.S. surgeon general Luther L. Terry formed the Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health .

Two years later, on January 11, 1964, the surgeon general announced the results of that committee’s findings. The press conference to announce the results was held on a Saturday in anticipation of the adverse effect the study might have on the stock prices of tobacco companies. The study established a link between cigarette smoking and diseases ranging from lung cancer to cardiovascular diseases and cirrhosis of the liver. Two weeks later, the Public Health Service Public Health Service, U.S. announced its acceptance, in full, of the Advisory Committee’s report. In subsequent weeks, several congress members introduced legislation related to the controversy and called for hearings.

Three days of FTC hearings on cigarette labeling and advertising rules began on March 16. A proposed rule had been circulated in advance. One section required that a health warning appear in all advertising and on cigarette packages. Drafts of two warning statements were presented, each indicating that cigarette smoking can lead to death. Another section of the rule attempted to ban “words, pictures, symbols, sounds, devices or demonstrations . . . that would lead the public to believe cigarette smoking promotes good health or physical well-being.”

The FTC was overruled by Congress on part of its proposal. Warnings were to be required only on packages, not in advertising, according to the Cigarette Labeling Act of 1965. The ban on radio and television advertising came later, by an act of Congress, not through the FTC or the Federal Communications Commission Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The required inclusion of the health warning on all print advertisements also came later. This was the result of a voluntary agreement between the commission and cigarette manufacturers in 1972, when a congressional ban on commission action forcing this requirement was expiring.

The ruling requiring warning labels was to take effect on January 1, 1965. In the nine-month period between the commission’s hearings and the first of January, the cigarette industry mobilized. Within one month of the hearings, the industry announced the creation of a voluntary code, intended to signify to Congress and the public that the industry was interested in regulating itself and that the FTC was an obstacle to self-regulation. Robert B. Meyner Meyner, Robert B. , a former governor of New Jersey, was hired to administer the code and given the authority to issue fines of up to $100,000 to violators. Essentially, the code prohibited advertising aimed at persons under twenty-one years of age and prohibited cigarette advertising from making positive health claims. The code limitations were difficult to interpret and enforce. These difficulties eventually led to an agreement that would later ban cigarette advertising from the broadcast media.

The agreement was prompted by the pending expiration on July 1, 1969, of the Cigarette Labeling Act Cigarette Labeling Act (1965) of 1965. The FCC unexpectedly announced in February that if Congress allowed the 1965 act to expire, the FCC would propose a rule that would ban cigarette advertising from the airwaves.

At this point, several options were available. If Congress did not act and allowed the 1965 legislation to expire, this would permit the FCC to enact its proposed restrictions. Alternatively, Congress could have extended the 1965 ban or could have taken action on the health warning label, making it more or less stringent. Antismoking forces hoped that Congress would not act, thereby allowing for the more encompassing regulations proposed by the FCC. Instead, the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce held thirteen days of hearings two months before the ban was to expire. The arguments and many of the witnesses were the same as those heard in the 1965 hearings.

In testimony before the House Commerce Committee, Warren Braren Braren, Warren , former manager of the New York office of the Code Authority, made it clear that the National Association of Broadcasters National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) deliberately misled Congress and the public into believing that voluntary industry self-regulation in reducing youth appeal was meaningful. He revealed that television networks and advertising agencies regularly overruled Code Authority staff members in interpretation of standards. The Code Authority operated entirely on voluntary submissions by advertising agencies. Some tobacco sponsors simply had not subscribed to the code, and those that did made their own judgments on whether their commercials needed to be reviewed.

The bill that passed the House of Representatives on June 18, however, appeared to represent a victory for the cigarette industry. It prohibited the states permanently, and the federal agencies for six more years, from enacting regulations on cigarette advertising, in exchange for a strengthened package warning label.

The bill as passed by the House, however, sparked a severe backlash in the Senate and at the state level as well as in the private sector. The New York Times, for example, announced that it would require a health warning in any cigarette advertisement appearing in that newspaper.

The Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Frank E. Moss, held a one-day hearing, with only five witnesses appearing. Speaking for the tobacco manufacturers in July, Joseph F. Cullman III, chair of Philip Morris, told the Senate Consumer Subcommittee that the industry was ready to end all advertising on television and radio on December 31 if the broadcasters would cooperate, and in any event would agree to cease advertising by September, 1970, when existing agreements expired. The announcement by Cullman caught many broadcasters by surprise. They had proposed to phase out cigarette ads over a three-year period beginning in January, 1970. Cigarette advertising accounted for $225 million a year in revenue to broadcasters, and they had hoped that a gradual reduction would help in the development of contingency plans to recover a portion of the lost revenue.

Meanwhile, the NAB Television and Radio Code Review Boards announced a plan on July 8 to stop advertising on radio and television beginning January 1, 1970. In addition, cigarette manufacturers were required to continue carrying warning labels on their packages. The agreement stipulated that member stations of NAB would phase out cigarette commercials on the air beginning January 1. The review boards also said that they would prohibit cigarette commercials during or adjacent to any program that was primarily directed at youth and would further study ways to reduce the appeal of cigarettes to minors. The announcement amounted to a victory for critics of tobacco, most notably the FCC, which had threatened to ban all cigarette commercials from the airwaves.

The tobacco industry, in presenting its proposal, showed concern that broadcasters might sue for antitrust violations, on the grounds that the cigarette companies had acted in collusion. The industry included a request for antitrust protection in presenting its proposal.

The bill that emerged from Congress on March 19, 1970, and was signed into law by Nixon on April 1, was called the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969. The law banned cigarette advertising from radio and television beginning January 1, 1971. It also agreed to allow the FTC to consider warnings in printed advertising after July 1, 1971. Cigarette package warning labels were changed to: “Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined that Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Your Health.”


Attitudes within the tobacco industry regarding the ban were mixed. It is commonly assumed in the industry that advertising does not increase the size of the overall cigarette market. Instead, it affects the competitive position of the various brands. The primary effect of the advertising ban, therefore, would be to freeze the market shares currently held by each of the brands. Print ads could still affect market share but were not believed to be as powerful. The money saved by not producing and placing advertising in the broadcast media would be substantial. As an added bonus, the industry hoped that a cessation of cigarette advertising would yield a respite in the growing volume of antismoking advertising.

It was expected that the industry’s decision to discontinue expensive television campaigns would be accompanied by stepped-up spending on print advertising, coupons, and contests. The chairman of American Brands predicted that “the battleground for cigarette sales advertising will probably switch to other media.” Newspaper and magazine publishers, unlike broadcasters, are not federally licensed and are protected by the First Amendment’s freedom-of-speech provision. There was no indication that publishers would voluntarily ban cigarette advertising, since it amounted to approximately $50 million in annual revenue. Furthermore, there was less pressure to ban print advertising of cigarettes, since these ads primarily reached an adult audience and were less intrusive than television ads.

Opinions varied on how cigarette sales would be affected by a ban on broadcast advertising. In Great Britain, where cigarette ads were banned from television in 1965, sales initially fell but then recovered to reach record levels. In the United States, per capita cigarette sales had begun declining in 1968. This decline had been attributed in part to a drop in the number of new, young smokers. This market segment had become increasingly concerned about the health threats of smoking. That concern resulted in part from antismoking advertisements that the television networks were required to run, free of charge, after passage of the 1967 Fairness Doctrine.

The tobacco industry’s initial response to the broadcast advertising ban was to find alternative means to get its message to the public. Liggett & Myers, Philip Morris, and R. J. Reynolds all signed contracts with automobile racing organizations as a way to keep their brands on television, announcing that the races would be named after popular brands, for example the “L&M Continental Championship,” the “Marlboro Championship,” and the “Winston 500.” Some industry observers saw this as an attempt at a “rear door” reentry by cigarette makers into the television market. Advertisers also positioned displays strategically at racetracks so that they would be captured by television cameras covering the events.

Within one month of the imposed ban on broadcast media advertising, the number of pages of cigarette advertising in consumer magazines more than doubled as compared to the same period of the previous year. Although some increase was anticipated, its magnitude caught the magazine industry by surprise and created a controversy. This stemmed from the impression that the increase in cigarette advertising might convey in the light of the magazine industry’s somewhat delicate position regarding health warnings. Congress had barred the FTC from requiring health hazard warnings in cigarette print ads before July 1, 1971, but not after.

Twenty months after the broadcast advertising ban went into effect, the FTC urged the government to buy broadcast time for antismoking advertising. Smoking had hit record high levels since the ads left the airwaves. In 1972, a total of 554 billion cigarettes were smoked, 3 percent more than in the preceding year. The tobacco industry apparently had survived the controversy that began with the 1964 surgeon general’s report. Analysts correctly predicted that the industry would witness at least a decade of strong, steady growth. Some attributed this growth to the increase in the 25 to 44 age bracket, a group that accounted for a large proportion of cigarette consumption. Others argued that the ban had not yet had its full effect, since most young consumers had seen cigarette ads for most of their lives.

John F. Banzhaf III, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health Action on Smoking and Health , an antismoking public interest group, stated that to date the greatest impact of the ruling was that antismoking messages were appearing far less frequently, since broadcasters no longer had to air them for free to balance cigarette ads. The effects of cigarette advertising were seen to be long term, while the antismoking ads seemed to have an effect for a shorter period.

In the 1970’s, public and medical research interest turned to the effects of smoking on nonsmokers. In 1972, the surgeon general issued the first report suggesting that secondhand smoke was dangerous to nonsmokers. In 1975, Minnesota passed the first state law requiring businesses, restaurants, and other institutions to establish nonsmoking areas. The concern regarding secondhand smoke continued, with an increasing number of local governments and businesses restricting smoking in public areas.

The cigarette industry continued to target new generations of smokers. Through print and billboard advertising, sales promotions, public relations, and giveaways, the industry continued to aggressively promote its brands. The restriction on broadcast advertising and the required warning labels on packages and advertisements appear to have had a limited impact in the face of advertising that promises smokers increased status, social acceptance, and glamour. Advertising
Commerce, government regulation of
Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969 (1970)

Further Reading

  • Balkin, Karen F., ed. Tobacco and Smoking. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 2005. Presents the pros and cons of smoking and tobacco use. Includes viewpoints on tobacco advertising.
  • Blanke, D. Douglas, and Vera da Costa e Silva, eds. Tobacco Control Legislation: An Introductory Guide. 2d ed. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2004. A guidebook from the World Health Organization that outlines the legislative ins and outs of controlling and regulating tobacco and tobacco use.
  • Brandt, Allan M. The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America. New York: Basic Books, 2007. A “biography” of the cigarette that details its role in twentieth century American culture.
  • Cordry, Harold V. Tobacco: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2001. An excellent resource for studies of cigarettes and tobacco. Provides a history of tobacco use in the United States and discusses smoking’s health risks, law and legislation, antismoking campaigns, and much more.
  • Doron, Gideon. The Smoking Paradox: Public Regulation in the Cigarette Industry. Cambridge, Mass.: Abt Books, 1979. Provides a succinct overview of the conflicting interests at the center of the debate regarding cigarette smoking.
  • Fritschler, A. Lee. Smoking and Politics: Policymaking and the Federal Bureaucracy. 3d ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1983. A comprehensive review of the debate and negotiations that surrounded the decision to ban cigarette advertising from television and radio. Provides an insightful summary of the political maneuvering that accompanied the decision.
  • O’Hegarty, M., et al. “Reactions of Young Adult Smokers To Warning Labels on Cigarette Packages.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 30, no. 6 (June, 2006): 467-473. Report of a study that examined how smokers and former smokers in the United States would respond to more graphic warnings on cigarette packages.
  • Sobel, Robert. They Satisfy: The Cigarette in American Life. New York: Anchor Press, 1978. An extensive history of the tobacco industry and its changing economics, with a dispassionate account of the political struggle regarding cigarette advertising.
  • Tollison, Robert D., ed. Smoking and Society: Toward a More Balanced Assessment. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1986. Presents an assessment of the debate regarding cigarettes from the standpoint of its impact on society. Does not directly review legal aspects, but provides a collection of articles that provide essential background information.
  • White, Larry C. Merchants of Death: The American Tobacco Industry. New York: Beech Tree Books, 1988. A somewhat biased presentation that provides a readable account of the techniques that tobacco companies have used to market their brands.

Aversion Drug Found for the Treatment of Alcoholism

Wilkins Introduces Reserpine for the Treatment of High Blood Pressure

Congress Sets Standards for Chemical Additives in Food

Hazardous Substances Labeling Act Is Signed

Federal Law Requires Cigarette Warning Labels