In a society that cherishes its tradition of illuminating controversies through dialogue, it's always disappointing to see proponents of one point of view embrace censorship.
Such can be the effect of frustration over one's inability to prevail, and such is the product of Ellen Goodman's misguided zeal in her July 15 column.
She has persuaded herself that cigarette smoking is bad, that brand advertising stimulates smoking, that smokers are, therefore, victims of the advertising and must be protected by its prohibition.
In so doing she has relied on major misstatements of facts -- that in Norway, where due to an advertising ban that has failed its proponents' wishes, and where the oldest teen-ager would have been eight when he saw his last cigarette advertisement, consumption is down; it is not. Per capita tobacco consumption has risen from 4,903 grams in the ban year, 1975, to 5,178 grams in 1984.
Another misstatement -- that in the United States cigarette manufacturers spend more than $2 billon annually advertising their brands; they do not. Apparently Ellen Goodman accepted uncritically a mistaken estimate put forth by the Federal Trade Commission, widely publicized, and later quietly retracted.
A third mistake -- that brand advertising is really designed to capture new smokers; it is not.
On the last point, Ellen Goodman dismisses as a self-serving invention the Tobacco Institute argument that brand advertisements are intended only to maintain or break brand loyalties among smokers. Even the surgeon general, in his 1979 report to Congress on smoking and health, the last to assess the point, observed that "the major action of cigarette advertising now seems to be to shift brand preferences, to alter market shares for a particular brand."
Said the report: "The following variables influence the decision to smoke: peer pressure, best friends who are smokers, parents who smoke, adolescent rebellion, imitation of adult behavior, and misconceptions concerning the risks of smoking."
Regardless, Ellen Goodman joins what she calls the "ban wagon." One hopes its passenger quota remains among the fanatic fringe. Otherwise, it might include those who would favor a law prohibiting publication of views supporting limitations of the First Amendment.