Smoke Free Movies has launched a series of print advertisements in the New York Times and other publications. This advertisement first ran on Oct. 29:

Barry M. Meyer, Warner Bros.; Sherry Lansing, Paramount; Dick Cook, Disney; Tom Rothman, 20th Century Fox: Defenders of artistic freedom?

These studio bosses let Big Tobacco promote smoking to global audiences in theaters, over satellite and cable, on tapes and DVDs, and so cleverly that you can’t tell it apart from paid product placement.

America’s most advertised cigarette, Marlboro, also dominates the big screen. And when several leading characters smoke in a movie, they never smoke brands from competing companies. That is exactly the sort of ‘exclusive’ demanded by any product placement deal.

Whether actors, directors, editors, set dressers or producers are addicted to nicotine themselves, corrupt enough to accept favors from Big Tobacco, or stupid enough to do the tobacco industry’s dirty work for free, censorship is not the answer.

Free speech is essential to a healthy society. Indeed, the First Amendment is the reason we can make so many secret documents tracing Big Tobacco’s involvement in Hollywood available to the public.

Big Tobacco argues that its free speech rights prevent states from restricting tobacco advertising to kids.

Yet it has never hesitated to violate the public’s right to know – retaliating against publications critical of tobacco, trying to block damaging research, spreading disinformation. The tobacco industry even lied to Congress about its activities in Hollywood.

But as researchers and public health advocates, we value free speech as an absolute guarantee that information will flow freely and powerful interests cannot suppress the facts.