The #1 Best Way to Get Industry to Beg for Regulation

The #1 Best Way to Get Industry to Beg for Regulation

Ayelet Hines No Comment
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When I was in 5th grade my best friend died in a house fire. I didn’t really understand what that meant at the time, but decades down the road I assume the fire was started by a cigarette. According to the National Fire Protection Association, one out of every four home fire deaths is caused by smoking-related materials. So it follows that making cigarette fires less likely would save lives, and manufacturing cigarettes so they’re less likely to cause house fires should be the law. Since 1929, there’s been a movement to do just that.

 

As you can imagine, the tobacco industry has not been overjoyed with the prospect of regulations requiring fire-safe cigarettes. First the movement tried to get the industry to follow voluntary standards, to no effect. Federal legislation failed. So what were advocates to do? One way forward was to work at the state level to pass laws requiring that tobacco companies meet slightly different standards from one location to the next. Having to keep multiple governments happy costs businesses a lot of time and money. They’d rather make one product one way and be able to sell it everywhere, instead of have to meet different requirements in a bunch of different markets. In 2000, New York was the first state to adopt legislation requiring the tobacco industry to meet fire-safe standards—the first time cigarette makers were ever regulated anywhere in the world. By early 2006, four more states adopted legislation modeled after New York’s.

 

If I was a tobacco industry executive and advocates were working state by state to regulate me, I’d see the writing on the wall—that a grassroots movement could potentially pass slightly different laws in every state in a way that made it untenable to do business—and I’d do whatever I could to ensure that either all the states’ laws permitted me to sell the same product, or federal regulation made the requirements uniform everywhere.

 

Today, fire-safe cigarette legislation has been adopted by all 50 states and the District of Columbia, all following model legislation passed in New York. What other movements can learn from this approach? What industries can you scare into protecting people by threatening to make it impossible to do business over a patchwork of regulations? How can you rein them in at the city, county, or state level first? Two industries immediately come to mind: 1) energy companies that are contributing to climate change, and 2) diaper companies, because I’m in a diaper-intensive period of my life (the first wave, when the diapers are on others, not on me) and I’d love to force manufacturers to make diapers that disappear instead of being one of the biggest waste streams in the county. Who wants to join me?

 

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Ayelet Hines - Change University

For over 20 years, I’ve helped people win campaigns on progressive Issues.

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