COLUMN: Take a closer look at what ads we regulate

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:29 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In the process of aging, one gains a keener perception of the value and content of television advertising, or is there merely more time or inclination to watch the tube? Also, I am almost certain that those at or approaching my years on the planet find many commercials funnier than today's sitcoms e. g., Aflac's Yogi Berra in the barber's chair and any of the GEICO ads.

Throughout the years, the rules of television advertising have been altered a number of times, ostensibly to protect children from the gimmickry of false promises or the portrayal of activities interpreted as "cool." In April 1970, Congress passed the Public Health Smoking Act, which banned advertising cigarettes on radio and TV as of January 2, 1971. (For history buffs, the last cigarette ad was for Virginia Slims and aired at 11:59 p.m. on January 1.) Smokeless tobacco ads were similarly outlawed in August 1986, putting an end to the "Just a pinch between your cheek and gum" commercial.

The motion picture industry climbed aboard the anti-tobacco cart in 2007 by posting warnings in movie credits that, horror of all horrors, smoking might appear on-screen. Similar efforts remain in progress to ban/regulate TV alcohol ads. However, a number of studies indicate that these beverage commercials have little or no effect on underage consumption. The current standard restricts airing of alcohol commercials in the U. S. to media wherein a minimum of 70 percent of viewers is more than the legal drinking age.

Additionally, there are coalitions of food police, professional do-gooders, dietary experts and anti-obesity cabals dedicated to removing television ads for candy, soft drinks, high sugar cereals and such staples as Twinkies and Dunkin' Donuts from the airwaves. Are we to believe that little Billy and little Susie will be so enamored of visual imagery that they will nag mommy until she surrenders and launches them on the road to obesity?

Mind you, I am not suggesting that the prevention of smoking, drinking and poor dietary choices by children is bad or even counter productive — children are a legacy, and we have a responsibility to guide them on a straight path. Nevertheless, we are in danger of missing the forest for the trees in attempting to influence behavior by hiding or denying temptation. Although the intent is laudable, creating a "nanny state" that absolves parents and individuals of responsibility is hardly reasonable.

But, there is a far more insidious and harmful message promulgated across our airwaves, one that offers to corrupt the ethics of personal responsibility of the young as well as of those old enough to know better. For example, there are radio and television reminders that the government has made available billions of dollars, enabling you (through benevolent agents of course) to cancel or spectacularly reduce your credit card debt — particularly if you owe $10,000 or more.

Next on the list of the unsavory are the agencies that offer counsel in the form of "former IRS agents" who will negotiate for you settlements on your obligation to the Internal Revenue Service for "pennies on the dollar." These are normally accompanied by grateful testimonials from folks who faced bankruptcy, homelessness, garnishment of wages or a one-way trip to the poorhouse. At least one of them features a faceless, quavering thank you to the advertising benefactor who performed this generous act out of the goodness of his or her heart.

I would be remiss in not mentioning the erasure of the ban on attorney advertising — in 1977 the Supreme Court upheld the commercial speech doctrine, which decreed that states no longer prohibit attorney advertising. The intent to open the door to information as to fees and availability of legal services for middle and lower income users was sound; however, it also served to create the "ambulance chaser" class of attorney.

This is that creative firm or individual lawyer that promises to litigate for you and/or yours claims of real or imaginary injuries from accidents, doctor malpractice, drug manufacturers, personal injuries and other lucrative happenstance and takes their pay only from your settlement. My personal favorite among these "good Samaritan" or "Robin Hood" litigators is portrayal of actor Robert Vaughn exhorting us to call the "Hurt Line" for relief.

Accordingly, well-intentioned interest groups are determined to regulate advertising content (i.e., tobacco, alcohol and food) better suited to home and family obligation, while turning a blind eye and deaf ear to commercials advocating chiseling and sniveling out of just debts, along with seeking that ever popular "something for nothing." One may feel a sympathy for the indebted unfortunates; nevertheless, they did in fact incur the credit card debt and/or failed to pay taxes on their income. And we wonder why credit cards must charge high interest rates?

Finally, in the crusade to protect children from the evils of TV, how many remember George Carlin's "The seven words you can never say on television?" That prohibition went the way of hoop skirts and buggy whips — the words are near staples now.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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martin luther April 7, 2010 | 12:55 a.m.

Meal planning is very important for Diabetes control. use this free meal planner and learn how to plan your meals for better diabetes and blood sugar control.

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amber stock April 7, 2010 | 10:28 a.m.

You forgot one important catagory. Prescription drugs. People go to their doctor wanting what they have seen on TV. They diagnose themselves according to the symptoms exhibited in the ad. Very bad medical practice when their Doctor will prescribe even though the drug is not entirely appropriate for that person.

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hank ottinger April 7, 2010 | 7:46 p.m.

Regarding the so-called "seven words": if they're the same seven words I'm thinking of, four are still pretty much off-limits on television, cable shows/films excluded.

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