Supreme Court Emboldens Alcohol Advertisers

Beer-Wine-Outdoor Lobby Moves Against L.A. Billboard Ban
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The alcohol industry is gearing up for a fresh assault on local ordinances that ban billboard ads for beer, wine and spirits.
A group consisting of the Beer Institute, the Wine Institute, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America and the California Beer and Beverage Distributors filed a lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, challenging the city’s ban.
In an effort to prevent underage drinking, Los Angeles–like many cities–passed a law last year prohibiting all advertising of alcohol within 1,000 feet of any residence, church, school, youth center or park. The law will take effect this October.
But the city passed the ban before a June Supreme Court decision striking down the federal government’s ban on TV and radio casino ads. In a strongly worded ruling, the court upheld the legality of truthful commercial speech. The ruling has given the liquor industry new hope for thwarting billboard bans for alcohol.
“This lawsuit is about whether or not the government has a right to decide what kind of information adults should have access to,” said Peter Cressy, president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.
Discus is considering lawsuits of its own against municipalities that restrict outdoor ads for spirits.
In L.A., the plaintiffs argue that the ban violates their First Amendment right to advertise a legal product. “The ordinance will require the removal of virtually all truthful and non-misleading advertising of alcoholic beverages on publicly visible media in the city to comply with what amounts to a blanket ban on such advertising,” the lawsuit states.
The city insists that by limiting children’s exposure to alcohol ads, the amount of illegal underage drinking will decline. “The law is based on a direct, scientifically demonstrable link between advertising and illegal underage consumption of alcohol,” said City Councilman Mike Feuer, a proponent of the ban. “Our law was drafted to conform to the legal standard used in evaluating whether a restriction on commercial speech is constitutional.”