Ruling Favors Curbs on Tobacco Ads
BOSTON (AP) -- A federal judge has rejected a claim that Massachusetts's ban on outdoor tobacco advertising near schools violates the tobacco industry's free speech rights.
U.S. District Judge William G. Young on Monday upheld state regulations that prohibit outdoor ads for cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and cigars within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.
Young also upheld a state requirement that cigar packages bear health warnings. But he struck down a restriction on tobacco ads inside retail stores.
``This is a great victory in our effort to combat underage smoking in Massachusetts,'' Attorney General Tom Reilly said in a written statement. ``The goal of these regulations is to reduce the influence of tobacco advertising on children.''
Tobacco companies had already agreed to pull billboard ads nationwide to settle litigation brought by states over the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses. But the Massachusetts regulations also included a ban on tobacco ads facing the street from stores near schools.
John Sorrells, a spokesman for Philip Morris Inc., said the company's attorneys would study the opinion and decide whether to appeal.
``We believe in commercial free speech -- and that was the reason we challenged these regulations,'' he said. ``We agree with Attorney General Reilly that kids shouldn't smoke nor should they have access to tobacco products. But we also believe strongly that we should have the right to communicate with our adult consumers.''
Young ruled in December that federal tobacco laws didn't prohibit the state from placing its own restrictions on tobacco advertising. But Young at that time did not address the industry's claim that such state bans violated the industry's right to free speech.
In January 1999, then-Attorney General Scott Harshbarger launched a first-in-the-nation attempt to restrict tobacco advertising under the state's Consumer Protection Act. The restrictions are scheduled to take effect next month.
Philip Morris filed suit in federal court, arguing that the federal government, not the states, had the right to regulate tobacco advertising. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Corp. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. joined the suit.
Health warnings in large black-and-white lettering will be required on packages of cigars sold in Massachusetts. They will say either: ``WARNING: Cigar Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide and Nicotine, an Addictive Drug,'' or ``WARNING: Cigars Are Not A Safe Alternative To Cigarettes Or Smokeless Tobacco Products.''
California is the only other state that requires such a warning.
``This is an important step forward in informing consumers of the serious health risks of cigar use,'' Reilly said.