The tobacco companies clearly think they have Congress and the country stuck with a Hobson's choice: a choice of taking what they offer -- "you must give us liability protection if you want us to agree to restrictions on how we market cigarettes" -- or nothing at all. They contend compulsory advertising restrictions are questionable under the First Amendment ("Tobacco Talks: Congress Mulls a Commercial Break," Feb. 22.)
But the tobacco companies present a false choice.
First, any ad restrictions the companies agree to may be as illusory as previous tobacco "concessions." For example, we already see the tobacco industry experimenting with ads that are free of Joe Camel and cowboys but that still appeal powerfully to kids' attraction to glamour and penchant for rebellion. We should not underestimate the creativity of the advertising industry to work around any restrictions.
Second, Congress has an alternative that doesn't need the tobacco companies' agreement: "look-back" provisions that impose huge monetary penalties for tobacco companies that fail to cut youth usage of their brands. If the look-back penalty provisions are strong and effective, the companies couldn't afford to market to kids.
In 17th Century Cambridge, Hobson's livery offered the horse closest to the door, or none at all. In America today, tobacco companies don't have the only horse in town. When it comes to keeping our kids off nicotine, we are not limited only to the choice tobacco offers.