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This is a weekly review of the affairs of government hold a federal case produced in Washington correspondent for the national educational radio network. What I look for is really a combination important problem where for one reason or I can be particularly effective to the extent that I have an expertise on the for legal action I'm not necessarily a good propagandist in order. You are not a politician. My work and my education my background my abilities my interest is in legal action and so I search out areas where I can be particularly effective in legal action smoking has been one of the men you just heard is John bans off. He is the major reason why you now see commercials on television that tell you why you shouldn't smoke. On this program you're going to hear Ben's off
to tell what he had to do to get any smoking ads in the air. And why I think it's important. I interviewed him recently in his office in the hall outside. All along one wall there were newspaper clippings from around the country at least a hundred of them. Having to do with everything that in some way related to cigarettes. There were articles about an organization bandsaw formed called Ash Action on Smoking and Health. There were articles on his dealings with the Federal Communications Commission in the United States Congress. There was even a recent Gallup poll which showed that the percentage of smokers to non smokers in the country has dropped in the last year. Inside talking to bands you can tell just from the tone of his voice why his crusade to put anti-smoking ads on TV has been successful. He's calm self-assured and totally in command of his thoughts and language. You hear that voice in just a minute. If you happen to be a smoker you can't feel comfortable lighting a cigarette in front of this
man. He says he doesn't mind. But then he adds if you honestly know what you're doing he really is a crusader. But he represents a new breed of crusaders. There is no white horse and long sword no flamboyance. John Ben's off is a lawyer he's a technocrat and very factual and very low key. He's a little like the astronauts we send in the space. He is not eloquent or romantic or idealistic in the usual sense rather very competent in the course of this interview you're bound to catch his one major ideal. It's a strong belief in the power of the law to serve the genuine public interest. That's actually what bands off is all about. You'll hear him now telling how he got into his Anti-Smoking Crusade and what happened. What's your personal about her interest in your background.
First an engineer. I became a lawyer became a lawyer rather than remain an engineer mostly because I felt that as an engineer I couldn't do too much to change the world. Right the little things that I thought were wrong. So I went to law school and I wouldn't say that I was ever particularly interested in from smoking to the exclusion of all others just that every once in a while I run across a problem. Or an area in which I have a particular interest and which because of various circumstances I can accomplish a great deal. Every once in a while I get into a small project I was the first guy to ever get a copyright on a computer program. I've done mathematical analysis of the Electoral College and thrown out various requests for one. These are just things I got into the reason I filed a petition with the FCC about smoking was first that I was concerned about the problem but that Secondly there was what I saw as legal leverage the opportunity to do a great deal for a little input. And this is because radio and television stations are owned by the
public and are required to operate in the public interest. And so by merely writing two or three very short letters to the FCC I was able to come up with this 75 million dollar a year decision being lighted you know around here. I've been called the junior varsity Ralph Nader the Ralph Nader of the broadcasting industry the rough nature of the tobacco industry I take them on great problems. I'm sure you do not guess or the purpose of forming Irish was that I was trying very desperately to defend the FCC decision requiring broadcasters to make equal time or make free time available for anti-smoking messages at the time of working full time for a law firm I have very little experience and I was up against a dozen or more of the finest law firms money could buy at a certain point it just became too much. So the primary purpose of ash the reason why we initially formed it was to help defend and force the decision defended by
going to court and providing adequate legal defense. Enforce it by monitoring stations around the country and filing complaints where they were not complying with the decision I would say an intermediate purpose of ash. Wants to take legal action on broad spectrum in the whole area of smoking. My initial experience with the FCC decision and demonstrated that legal action could be very effective to a very powerful weapon against the problem of smoking. And so the secondary purpose of forming it was simply to take various legal actions in the anti smoking area. The long range goal for ASH is simply to become an organization taking legal action on a wide variety of safety and health problems. We expect shortly to change the name from a sh Action on Smoking and Health to SH action on safety and health and to go into a wide variety of areas where you can get a great deal through legal action. But talk about how you first got the idea going to.
Yeah I never did get the idea to go into an anti-smoking campaign what I saw was the opportunity for one man to write a few letters in to achieve a rather large result. So I sat down and wrote letters to the playing station and to the FCC. And this resulted in a decision that the stations must provide a significant amount of free time for anti-smoking messages. Ben's off was successful. There are plenty of anti-smoking messages on TV but there aren't any in newspapers and even those cigarette packs have health warnings on them. There are no warnings in the ads the cigarette companies place in newspapers or television bans off talks now about the difference between TV and newspapers. And he gets into the larger questions of what is freedom of speech and what is the public interest. How do you answer the critics who say that they shouldn't be a difference between career advertising procedures and broadcasting. I think there are many major differences between the two the first is that broadcasting
must operate in the public interest the airwaves are owned by the public the Congress the courts and Federal Communications Commission wasat the broadcaster must operate the public interest that he has a trust for the public interest his media is subject to regulation and control. This reason for no other should prevent him from running cigarette ads and and requiring him to continue presenting anti-smoking messages for the point of view of impact there's a major difference. The combination of sight and sound particularly to young people who are not very adept or skill for regular readers also is far more effective than all of the ads placed in the various print media and those that buy the companies themselves recognize us. It's no coincidence that they keep upping their TV budget to where spending a quarter of a billion dollars in that area and all the rest of their budgeting is only 75 million dollars including radio radio billboards magazines newspapers and so on.
Conservatives really argue that that question of freedom of speech in the public interest. You know I think in fact all we're doing is we're getting our free speech. We're getting the right to reply when the broadcaster gets his license from the FCC It is not a license to run whatever he wants and simply to run things which only for interest an organization which is capable of paying for the war says that all interests must be heard. And prior to the FCC decision the antismoking voice was not heard. No one is saying that the cigarette manufacturer may not advertise. We are only saying that we have a right to reply. When I talk about the New York Times this is the reason that that is the way that they are like they sit around advertising as one thing the company voluntarily put in but I think in part the decision was motivated by a feeling shared by many people that it is somehow unfair for the broadcasters to bear the entire brunt of this
bird. I was as you probably know the broadcasters initially proposed to phase out as discontinue cigarette ads over a four year period. This was not satisfactory to many members of Congress and to many people in the anti-smoking community and eventually the tobacco industry indicated they would withdraw their cigarette ads from the broadcasting media by September 70 at the latest and by December thirty first of this year if the broadcasters would release them from their contract. But there is a great deal of criticism then that the entire brunt of this is being borne by the broadcasters and that many of the newspapers which editorialized very strongly against the cigarette ads on the air continue to run them in their newspapers. This problem was compound by the fear that much of the quarter of a billion dollars which is spent every year in broadcast cigarette advertising will suddenly be shunted to the print media because it would no longer be allowed to appear in radio and television and that the amount of data in
places like the New York Times and newspapers and magazines would proliferate. And I think this is the New York Times. One is a was a reaction to this and accepting the responsibility as a public service group. We are opposed to the Federal Trade Commission something a little bit different and why we support the New York Times move and applauded and applauded for their courage. We're proposing something slightly different. We have suggested to the Federal Trade Commission that they amend their proposed rules to provide the health warnings need not appear in advertisements which appear in his paper a magazine which regularly devotes a significant amount of space to public service messages about the promise not to. And the rationale is this. So far as we can tell the tobacco companies the cigarette manufacturers object to the health warning not so much because the public will be warned. But rather because they feel they are being required to disparage their product
because a health warning appearing in their ad takes away from the effect which they wish to create and find that there's something wrong with Big Brother government prescribing the standard health warning. The anti-smoking community I think also has some concern. We don't know really what the best way to dissuade people from smoking. You got to tell them more than that smoking will hurt them you've got to tell them roughly what the odds are you've got to tell them how to stop smoking. You've got to tell them that if they stop smoking it will help that they're not doomed if they've been smokers for 10 years or 20 years. In many cases it helps to tell that they may be harming their children in some cases it helps to provide them with information as to how to stop smoking. Our proposal in effect would request publishers to make free space available for the anti-smoking messages thus giving the anti-smoking community an opportunity to present their message in a wide variety of interesting forms. As a reward as a carrot for doing this they would then become a more attractive medium for tobacco
advertising because a cigarette manufacturer would not have to put the health one. And finally under the proposal nobody would be compel. The publisher is not required to make the anti-smoking messages available. He does this voluntarily. The tobacco industry is not required to put the health warning in because they could limit their advertising to media which pretty much provide anti-smoking messages. So as I say it seems to be a kind of a compromise and it will automatically also deal with the problem of increase that because of the number that increase personally the number of anti-smoking messages increase. And we have put this poses a number of newspapers and gotten a favorable response from a number and we're hoping to continue. Now you're going to hear bands of talk about some of his dealings with the United States Congress and he'll mention some of the difficulties with any legislation that supposed to protect the consumer. If you have anything to do with the after that was that the cars that have the lines and yes lines
on them. Yes that was one of our projects. This whole issue got into the congressional brain around May of 1969 and again similar in the way the health organizations one are able to engage in legal affairs. They like why they are able to do what you want to try to fact Congress to operate in the public interest here because no one was doing it. We formed another organization which is called Last Legislative Action on Smoking health which serves more or less as the anti-smoking lobby in Congress one of our major projects was to distribute to each member of Congress. But we caught the laugh track. This is a specially designed ashtray over which are suspended to clear plastic ones and so designed that the smoke from a cigarette in the ashtray goes up through one lung and not the other. After a very short amount of time the residue collects on the lawn in terms of black serving as a kind of a visible reminder to members of Congress and I think smoke. This is
a danger which causes just very recently highlighted by the tragic death of Senator Everett Dirksen. What about the role of Congress. Some congressmen you know that there are a lot of congressmen who own television stations the newspapers and who advertise it that there's one fellow. So at least as of June didn't I had never run any anti-smoking commercials because he didn't know if it ever told to me out there. Have you got any opposition have you got any example where we've got a good deal sir. Or from the number of members of Congress with quite strong opposition from a number of members of Congress we found that there was no real pattern. Many of those on television stations and radio stations or newspapers voted on our side. Many of them voted against us. What disturbed me very much was this. I think the vote in the house serves as a very important reminder about the problem.
Any consumer of Consumer Affairs legislation in this case we had a unique circumstance we had a problem which is clearly in the public interest. This is something which which everybody knew about smoking as a problem is something which the average person is reminded of. One of them actually on a daily basis. Everyone sees an anti-smoking message at least once a day. You can't go a week reading a major newspaper without finding some major story about smoking. At the same time you have in this field a number of major multi-million dollar organizations actively working in the area. You have a. Almost your rebuttable number of government reports in the area demonstrating the problem. And finally because the legislation was due to expire and it was our and the tobacco companies found themselves in a position of having to come to Congress for legislation we were in the unique position of being simply able to block legislation.
Yet with all of these many many advantages with all the publicity with the major organizations with a great public interest we lost two to one in the house but this is the most tragic I think when you look at most consumer legislation where you do not where the public is not aware of where they do not read about it every week where they do not see it every day where there are multi-million dollar organizations and where the consumer interest has to go in to get an affirmative bell. This is the reason why there are so few good consumer legislation in Congress. What was the vote in the house that was to run against you. This was a vote to extend the cigarette Labeling Act which just expired. The gist of the act would be that it would require a slightly stronger health warning on the side of the pack and at the same time prevent the Federal Communications Commission from banning cigarette ads from the air. Prevent the Federal Trade Commission from requiring
health warning in cigarette advertisements and prevent any individual state or other organization from from taking any effective action about a problem smoking. In other words it would legislate a stalemate in this area for an additional six years. We bitterly opposed them when it passed the House by two to one vote. I think it is now in the Senate before actually it came to a subcommittee the chairman of whom Senator Marsh from Utah who is a Mormon running for reelection a very strong anti-smoking state and he has vowed that he will filibuster and do anything else necessary to prevent the passage of any kind of prose marking legislation. So far his activities have resulted in the capitulation by the tobacco industry to ban them to voluntarily take the cigarette ads off the air. And we are hoping that there will be additional concessions in the near future. We need a lot of money. In many cases surprisingly no Lash has been operating on a literally a shoestring budget. And so far we
have prevented any legislation from getting through. We know we influenced a great many books we know we made a great deal of change in the in the hearings before the house with any kind of a budget I think we could have done a much better job. The problem is that all of the consumer interest the people who don't like smoking people who don't like air pollution the big bill who don't like water pollution the people who don't who are concerned about safety in cars or safety in pipelines are not organized. Their voices are not heard by members of Congress. Yes Ralph Nader runs around and does what he can i run around do what I can and a few others do. But it's not being done in an organized way. Certainly they're not being adequately represented in the courts before the administrative agencies. And this again takes us back to why ASH was one we would like to begin doing this in a great many of these areas. Ashlan goal would be for federal agencies go into the courts to represent these consumer interests. But we can do more than that by finally initiating actions. We can make the courts and agencies focus
on these problems which I don't want to be overlooked with associated lobbying organizations such as Flash we can coordinate this with pressures information and education to members of Congress in many cases get their support. There are legislative matters or sometimes your support even numbers like that. Now although Ben's off doesn't do this very easily. He talks a little more personally about his efforts. He discusses the anti-smoking ads themselves and how much free time he has in his idea to get everybody in the city of New York to sue for clean air. Throughout it all runs his belief in the power of the law when it's applied properly you know. Seen any smoking commercial that he didn't write. I've seen some which I thought were kind of weak and part of the reason for this is that many of the health organizations simply haven't realized how strong they can make some of their messages and still have them put on the air. I'd like to see some of
them go off in different directions. But I've never seen one which I really didn't like and I think most of them are tremendously affected as well being quite amusing and humorous is something which could be used more often. I think you know in these campaigns in addition to the last trade we do we distributed to many members of Congress what we call a anti-smoking button book which contains a number of different anti-smoking buttons all of which are humorous and some of them are go like this the family that smokes together chops together. A little often and his family smokes and similar low key but very very effective reminders about the problems that you have regrets about in this that you value some dreaming about. No I never found myself grinning about it one of the problems as it tends to be a runaway occupation and I get to furnish my apartment in many cases I did not get to do a great many things I would like to do I understand the route
nature works almost literally around the clock living in a small rooming house and literally devoting his entire life to it. I haven't quite gone that far but in a great many occasions Each one begins to wonder why you work so hard and forego many of the other things which you could be doing. And this is one of the problems I hope again with an organization is that it will not be so hard for one man that many of the new attorneys now coming out of Washington will not be faced with the choice of either joining a large law firm and serving the property interests or becoming aroused they are making tremendous sacrifices to go on whether they be able to join a public interest law firm a public service legal action organization earn some sort of a minimal salary work long hard hours and be able to serve the public interest but at least they will not be faced with that very very difficult choice they would have in the absence of such organizations. Well if you want to do the math here person that's all you think can be done in the way
of the endgame grouped together in focus in relation particularly near air pollution I think you can sue most of the major polluters both for damages and to cause them to stop. To take one example New York's chief polluters probably consolidated as a large electrical utility which once calculated that Con Edison cost every New Yorker something $160 each. Simply cleaning cleaning his car cleaning his wife's sureties curtains of his house and so on. This doesn't include all of the damage which he's doing to the ones in New York. I see no reason why an organization could not sue on behalf of all New Yorkers. $60. Times 12 million against Consolidated Edison at the same time get a court order requiring them to stop polluting the air. The war is there the precedents are there simply hasn't been done a great many are precedents to the effect that if you own a piece of land and somebody upstream from your land is
polluting the stream you can sue them for the damage. And get a court order preventing them from polluting the stream. So far as I know this has not really been tried. No one has bought land on the Hudson or on the Potomac or on the major rivers and tried to sue are the people upstream. The government keeps making plans in regional plans and proposals and standards and so on. There's a great deal of talk about how much money it would cost to give to the polluters in order to allow them to stop polluting. No one seems to think that the number seems to realize they don't have any legal right to dump their pollutants into the stream and that legal action may be tremendously effective. Now you don't always have to win in your legal action as an organization called the Environmental Defense Fund which has brought a great many lawsuits to prevent the use of DDT because of dangerous insecticide and so far as I know they have an unbroken record of losses yet in each case they have been successful in focusing public
attention on this issue in bringing out vital finance. And although they lose their cases the DDT spraying is discontinued. And you've seen some major moves in this area in recent months. This is the kind of public service legal action which we think could be a factor over a wide spectrum of public health. You clearly have been very successful in this and it's for them. I think certainly compared to to them the resources we've had one man and not very much money against a very very major. Industrial complex when we've been amazingly successful and I think this is not so much. Because my efforts have been so spectacular but because of the great power and strength that the walking gear can give to the public. One of quite probably I think the same thing could be done in the great many areas if only there were individuals doing in the organisation given need support. If every member of the
public who is concerned about air pollution would send $5 to an anti-smoker or to an anti air pollution legal action organisation you might see it cleaned up in two or three years. If every person who is concerned about water pollution would send $1 I think you would see some major losses which would have a major which could have a major impact on the. On water pollution In addition many of these things have affects far beyond their original intent. I think to a certain extent the FCC decision on smoking has done a great deal to revitalize the Federal Communications Commission. As an agency it was the first in a number of steps in which the Commission for the first time has turned away from being an industry rubber stamp and has begun to scrutinize a great many broadcasters and to really regulate them in the public interest and a number of the activities I I become involved in and have gone beyond simply the smoking thing and gone into the broader area of the
responsibility to broadcasting to a community. Likewise I think that suit in the air pollution water pollution area will likewise have a spillover effect and will have important effect being above and beyond those those two major air. You were there when there were when people will simply stop you know going back to point out that probably we're not we're not really we don't object and he really knows the facts from smoking. We're concerned about various deceptive about the smoke. So I think we always have. We were always we always have cars were always for one reason or other. Long as long as they know what they're getting into. Right.
There's one footnote to John Ben's off here in the capital recently there was a proposal to establish a separate consumer affairs agency on a cabinet level with its own presidential appointed secretary John bands off opposes the idea. And when I asked him why he said he'd like to see something that would truly serve the public on each issue that's in the public interest. Now for bands off that would have to mean the establishment of several consumer action groups with money from private as well as public sources so that no special interest including the government would be there to keep the public from getting a fair shake. This man still has several large Crusades in front of him. This has been a federal case. Your correspondent.
A Federal Case
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National Educational Radio Network
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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"A Federal Case" is a weekly program produced by the National Educational Radio Network which examines current political topics in the United States and Washington, D.C. Each episode features interviews with experts, members of the public, and lawmakers concerning a specific issue of government.
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Producing Organization: National Educational Radio Network
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