The American Medical Association's top lawyer predicted yesterday that the AMA will "lobby like hell" for a federal law banning all tobacco advertising and said that "we expect the tobacco industry to cry."
General Counsel Kirk B. Johnson said that the AMA's board of trustees has unanimously recommended a "rather dramatic" resolution calling for the ban and that he expects the House of Delegates, the AMA's governing body, will approve it at a meeting here early next week.
"We think it's a significant initiative," Johnson said in an interview.
However, William Kloepfer, a senior vice president of the Tobacco Institute, the industry trade association, expressed confidence that, if Congress ever were to enact such a ban, the courts would invoke the constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press to strike it down.
Congress barred cigarette advertising from television and radio in 1971, acting under court holdings that the government can regulate electronic media because the air waves -- unlike printing presses -- belong to the public. Congress extended the ad prohibition to little cigars in 1973.
The legislation was followed by sharply increased outlays for printed cigarette advertising, mostly in magazines and newspapers. Johnson said that about $2 billion a year is now spent for tobacco ads.
"We take the First Amendment seriously," Johnson said.
Kloepfer responded: "If print advertising is attackable within the First Amendment, what kind of ghastly precedents would we be setting" with a ban?
Johnson said the proposed ban would be more effective as an "assault on the use of tobacco" than product-safety lawsuits, which have threatened to hold tobacco companies liable for deaths and injuries alleged to have resulted from the use of tobacco.
But Kloepfer said that the law barring cigarette ads from TV and radio was followed by "more smokers and more smoking." In Norway, he said, "cigarette consumption has increased" since cigarette advertising and promotion were banned in 1975.
Smoking critics are "dead wrong" in claiming cigarette advertising converts nonsmokers into smokers, rather than in converting them from one brand to another, Kloepfer said.
The AMA trustees also have recommended that the House of Delegates adopt a report concluding that cigarette product-liability suits are "an ineffective and unwieldy tool for shaping public policy with regard to the health issues of tobacco use."
That recommendation has been denounced by the nonprofit Public Citizen Health Research Group, which said that the recommendation counsels physicians to avoid involvement in litigation that attributes disease, injury or death to cigarettes. That counsel would be "nothing less than medical malpractice," the health research group said.
Yesterday, Johnson accused the research group of having misinterpreted the conclusion, which he said he wrote. The conclusion was simply "that there were more effective ways . . . to contain or eliminate, the use of tobacco," he said. "The AMA is not suggesting that physicians not fully cooperate when called upon in tobacco litigation. Indeed, they have a duty to their patients to assist them when requested in litigation."