American television and radio was once rife with tobacco advertising – for cigarettes in particular. After World War II, a surge of advertising saw tobacco companies sponsoring entire shows on the newly pervasive medium of television, including the primetime family cartoon “The Flintstones.” And TV commercials for cigarettes featured such stars as Lee Marvin, John Wayne and even Irene Ryan (you may remember her as Granny from "The Beverly Hillbillies"). Though reports were already in circulation in the late 1950s and early 1960s warning of the harmful effects of smoking, you’d never have known it from watching TV. One ad even touted free cigarettes for hospitalized veterans.
As they evolved, cigarette ads increasingly emphasized taste and aroma, with the occasional boast about a specialized filter. But by 1967, with awareness of the dangers of smoking growing, the Federal Communications Commission mandated that anti-smoking public service announcements be aired at no cost to the advertiser. And four years later, with the passage of the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, all TV and radio cigarette ads were banned.
The next big milestone came in 1998, when four of the largest U.S. tobacco companies (Philip Morris Companies Inc., now known as Altria Group Inc. [NYSE:MO]; R.J. Reynolds, a subsidiary of Reynolds American [NYSE:RAI]; Brown and Williamson, a former subsidiary of British American Tobacco [NYSE: BTI] that merged with R.J. Reynolds in 2004; and Lorillard [NYSE:LO]) reached a $206 billion settlement with the attorneys general of 46 states. The lawsuits filed by the attorneys general sought the recovery of tobacco-related health care costs, dismantled most of the marketing tactics of tobacco companies and provided funding for anti-smoking campaigns by the American Legacy Foundation, most notably the “Truth” advertising campaign, a series of television, Web and print ads that take a stance against tobacco companies.
Then along came e-cigarettes, which circumvented cigarette bans because they technically aren’t cigarettes but devices that emit nicotine-laden vapor. There are currently no federal regulations governing e-cigarettes, though several states including California and New York have either passed legislation or are seeking to pass legislation to regulate e-cigarettes and their advertisements.