Court Lets Stand Ban on Cigarette, Liquor Billboards

By Compiled From News Services | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 29, 1997 | Go to article overview

Court Lets Stand Ban on Cigarette, Liquor Billboards


Compiled From News Services, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The Supreme Court Monday rejected a constitutional free-speech challenge to a ban on billboards that advertise cigarettes or alcoholic beverages in many public places frequented by children.

Baltimore passed the ban in 1994. St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc., the nation's largest brewer, and Penn Advertising of Baltimore, which has a number of billboards in the city, were appealing a lower court's ruling on the ban to the Supreme Court.

The decision to let stand Baltimore's ban was taken without any comment or dissent from the justices and does not create a nationwide precedent. But it could encourage other cities across the country to adopt similar measures. The high court's action came just three days after a federal judge in North Carolina ruled the Food and Drug Administration can regulate sales and labeling of cigarettes but has no authority over advertising. The North Carolina judge never reached the constitutional free-speech question. He ruled only on the more narrow issue that the FDA lacked the authority under the law to adopt the federal restrictions on advertising of cigarettes. The Baltimore cases involve two ordinances adopted to try to reduce illegal smoking and drinking by minors. The ban had drawn close attention of the tobacco, advertising and alcoholic beverage industries. The brewery and the billboard company argued in their appeals to the Supreme Court that the laws violated their constitutional free-speech rights under the First Amendment, but the justices turned down the appeals. The laws prohibit signs or other forms of advertising for cigarettes and alcoholic beverages "in a publicly visible location," including outdoor billboards, sides of buildings and signboards. There were a number of exceptions, permitting signs in windows of places licensed to sell alcohol or cigarettes, on buses and taxicabs, at professional sports stadiums and on billboards along interstate highways. Violation of either law is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of as much as $1,000 a day. A federal judge and then a U.S. appeals court upheld the laws, ruling that they advanced a legitimate government interest in reducing underage smoking and drinking and were no more restrictive than necessary. The Supreme Court last year sent the case back to the appeals court after the justices struck down on free-speech grounds a Rhode Island ban on advertising of retail liquor prices. …

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