Cigarettes and Satellites


John Banzhaf, who proudly describes himself as "the lawyer Reader's Digest called 'The Man Behind the Ban on Cigarette Commercials,'" is taking credit for a decision by XM Radio to stop carrying cigarette ads. Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University and well-known anti-smoking (and lately anti-fat) activist, filed the FCC complaint that ultimately led to the 1970 congressional ban on cigarette ads in "any medium of electronic communication subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission." In a letter to XM, Banzhaf warned that it may be violating that law. "Although satellite radio broadcasters apparently [consider] themselves outside the purview of the FCC, and regularly broadcast materials which would be offensive under the agency's standards," he says in a press release, "XM Radio's use of ground-based repeater/transmitters may subject it to FCC jurisdiction."

If the courts buy this argument, it will mean the end not only to cigarette commercials but to satellite radio's role as a 24-hour safe harbor from broadcast indecency rules. As Dan Kennedy suggested in the Boston Phoenix last month, "Howard Stern, who will jump from broadcast radio to the Sirius satellite network next year, may find his old nemesis, the FCC, waiting for him before he can even unveil his new show."