Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Supreme Court Ruling Leaves Big Tobacco Reeling

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Supreme Court Ruling Leaves Big Tobacco Reeling

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court turned away arguments Monday that restricting cigarette billboards violates free speech, a fresh blow to the tobacco industry even as President Clinton's own advertising crackdown heads toward the court.

The move came as the industry prepared to resume talks with anti- smoking lawyers in a bid to end a war on tobacco.

The justices, without comment, denied review of Baltimore's ban on billboard ads for cigarettes and alcoholic beverages. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that the ban was constitutional -- so the Supreme Court's refusal to overturn that decision means "every other city in the 4th Circuit can adopt these rules. They're legal," said Susan Low Bloch, a Georgetown University professor of constitutional law. An even more important decision lies ahead: how the same appeals court and later the Supreme Court will review the Food and Drug Administration's pending tobacco crackdown. A federal judge in North Carolina last week left the constitutionality of the FDA rules unanswered when he ruled that the agency could regulate tobacco but that it didn't have authority to restrict cigarette advertising under a particular section of federal law. The 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va., could hear appeals filed by cigarette makers and Clinton officials by fall. Refusing to intercede in Baltimore "at the very least suggests the Supreme Court would find the FDA's regulations of cigarette advertising constitutional," said John Banzhaf of the anti-tobacco group Action on Smoking and Health. The Supreme Court's denial "comports with our aim of curbing the advertising of cigarettes targeted toward children," added senior White House adviser Rahm Emanuel. FDA opponents disagree. Because the government's planned advertising crackdown goes well beyond billboards, the 4th Circuit may not be as lenient, said John Fithian, attorney for the advertising industry's Freedom to Advertise Coalition. Monday's denial "shouldn't surprise most people because the Supreme Court doesn't hear the vast majority of what is brought to it," said R.J. Reynolds spokeswoman Peggy Carter, declining further comment. …

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