Point of Sale Display Bans: Wrong Way to Deter Smoking

A new report published in the Journal of Pediatrics has big government regulators excited. The report states that point of sale displays (POSD) of tobacco products increase teenage smoking. The main researcher, Lisa Henriksen PhD, recommends banning these displays outright. What Dr. Henriksen and the spate of news articles announcing her findings fail to realize, is that a POSD ban would pose a serious threat to both intellectual and physical property.

Trademarks allow companies to differentiate their products in the market, and give individuals the information needed to make informed choices when purchasing goods. They signal a level of brand quality that consumers can trust. This relationship between retailers and buyers is the bedrock of our modern economy. By denying tobacco companies the ability to display their trademarks, a POSD ban would be a flagrant infringement on intellectual property rights. What is the point of having a trademark if no one can see it?

A ban would also impose burdensome regulations on private businesses. Since Cigarette companies are banned from advertising over the airwaves, they devote 90% of their marketing budgets on point of sale displays. A ban would severely hurt these companies, potentially leading to massive job losses.

Moreover, while it’s likely the goal of anti-tobacco interests to hurt cigarette companies economically, they’re forgetting that small businesses would also be affected. Many POSDs are located in small convenience stores, groceries, and gas stations. A ban would deter business from these stores as well, further hampering our economy at a time we can least afford it.

While it may be true that smoking displays increase the likelihood of teenage smoking, deterring bad behavior by infringing upon property rights should never be an option.