The enduring brilliance of Bruce Yandle’s concept of Bootlegger and Baptists (1983) coalition dynamics cannot be overstated. Often the policies supported by the “Baptists” end up benefiting various interest groups. The nature of this self-propelled relationship is steeped in irony. Superficially, many of the proposed initiatives would be detrimental to the interests of the “Bootleggers”, but frequently have consequences contrary to the aims of the morally motived activists. Carelessly crafted remedies to social ills can result in gapping loopholes or anti-competitive advantages to established firms producing goods that are injurious to public wellbeing.
An excellent example of this phenomenon was the FTC’s 1971 ban on televised cigarette commercials. This example seems to be timely considering the finalization of President Biden’s national prohibition on mentholated cigarettes. The impact of the 1971 advertising restrictions is detailed in Baptists, Bootleggers & Electronic Cigarettes (2016):
“….The tobacco industry was not as enamored with these regulatory initiatives as were some health-oriented groups. Congress reacted to such concerns with new legislation that weakened the FTC’s proposed label language while banning TV advertising starting in 1971.53 Far from a loss for the industry, this legislation erected a substantial entry barrier for potential competitors 54 The established brands enjoyed widespread name recognition, and new entrants would be unable to use television to establish their brands. 55 The elimination of television ads for cigarettes also brought an end to the offsetting public interest messages that attacked tobacco products and reduced cigarette company advertising costs. 56 The tobacco Bootleggers gained ground, and innovation took the back seat in what began to look like a comfortable cartel. Meanwhile, the health-care Baptists may have unwittingly cheered the new strictures that seemed to penalize bad Bootlegger behavior but actually protected their profits…” (p.325-326).
Based on the prima facie impressions of most people, it is easy to assume that the limitations on advertising would harm the tobacco industry; to a certain extent, it did. Cigarette consumption did decrease in the period after advertisements; were pulled from the airwaves. However, the magnitude of the impact is difficult to measure as other factors can also account for the lower smoking rates in the United States. This policy truly harmed the up-and-coming cigarette companies more so than the titans of the American tobacco market. Why would Marlboro need to advertise its products? The brand already had significant brand recognition by the early 1970s. Companies like Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds could comfortably rest on their laurels while the newcomers could flounder in their attempts to gain a little piece of the market share. Effectively, this ban significantly increased market concentration among the established firms.