By Jody Brumage
Congress passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act in 1970, banning the advertising of cigarettes and tobacco products on television and radio. The bill, signed into law by President Richard Nixon on April 1, 1970, was the product of over five years of efforts to curb the public health crisis posed by smoking as well as a continual power struggle between an executive agency, the Federal Communications Commission [FCC], and Congress over which branch had the authority to impose such a ban on cigarette advertising.
In 1964, U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry published Smoking and Health, formally acknowledging research conducted over the past decade proving a correlation between smoking and lung cancer as well as other respiratory diseases. The report prompted the FCC to announce in the summer of 1964 that it would require tobacco companies to display a warning of the consequences of smoking on its products and eventually in its advertising. Following a massive lobbying effort from the tobacco industry, Congress took up the issue in an effort to impose its authority.
Congress adopted legislation in 1965 to address the cigarette advertising issue. Senate and House versions of the bills required cigarette packaging to carry warnings, though not as specific as the FCC had desired in their policy directive. The legislation also directly addressed the regulatory authority over advertising, with amendments to the House bill calling for a complete restriction of the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] from imposing any policy on cigarette advertising. With pressure from health organizations, Congress eventually decided to impose a temporary moratorium on advertising to allow for more research to be completed. The bills, reconciled in a conference committee in the early summer of 1965, were passed and signed into law on July 27 by President Lyndon Johnson as the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act.
By the end of the decade, growing dissatisfaction with the limited reach of the 1965 legislation and mounting pressure to impose more strict regulation on cigarette advertising led the FCC and Congress to reexamine the issue. In the opening days of the 91st congress in 1969, FCC Chairman Rosel Hyde made a bold announcement that he intended to ban all cigarette advertising from television and radio broadcasts once the moratorium of the 1965 act expired. Congress quickly responded by introducing bills in the Senate and House to take up the unresolved issues of the 1965 legislation.
During the spring of 1969, hearings in the commerce committee wore on as dozens of health organizations, medical researchers, and tobacco company representatives testified on their views of the proposed ban. Near the end of the spring, Congressman Staggers commented to the press that these were the longest hearings he had witnessed in nearly a decade of serving on the commerce committee. The house passed its version of the legislation in June 1969, sending the measure to the Senate. A conference committee reconciled the Senate and House versions of the legislation leading to its final passage in the spring of 1970.