Move to ban liquor billboards wins key vote

December 07, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

Landmark legislation believed to make Baltimore the first city in the country to ban liquor advertising on billboards won a key vote last night before the City Council.

The 13-6 vote would prohibit alcohol advertising on billboards almost everywhere in the city except in heavy industrial zones, and near the Pimlico Race Course, Memorial Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

A final vote on the ban, which has the support of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, is scheduled to come Thursday at the final council meeting before a monthlong winter recess.

Last night's council vote was hailed by community activists, who have contended that the liquor advertising on billboards encourages youths to drink illegally and that the ads are unfairly concentrated in low-income communities.

"I'm excited. This is a grass-roots victory," said Bev Thomas, head of the City-Wide Liquor Coalition for Better Laws and Regulation. But the outcome was denounced by representatives of the billboard and packaged-goods industry, who attacked the ban as illegal censorship and argued that it would hurt business while not addressing problems of alcohol abuse.

"It's unfairly picking on one form of advertising," said James W. Fisher II, general manager of Penn Advertising Inc., which owns 90 percent of the billboards in the city. He said his company will sue in an effort to have the legislation overturned.

The vote came after the council voted 11-8 to table amendments that would have allowed liquor stores to advertise alcohol brands and prices in certain restricted areas on the exteriors of their buildings.

The changes had been agreed to by the council's land-use committee. But committee Chair Anthony J. Ambridge said that, because the amendments were substantive and not merely technical, the amended bill needed to have another hearing or it would be open to legal challenge. Instead, Mr. Ambridge, D-2nd, incorporated the changes into a new bill he introduced last night.

Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, argued that the amendments made the bill workable and complained that the bill was being "rushed through" the council. But Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, chief sponsor of the legislation, retorted, "These amendments are setting us up . . . to fail" and asked her colleagues to consider the groundbreaking nature of the legislation.

The council's failure to amend the bill drew criticism from the vice president of the local licensed beverage association.

"The City Council has dealt the small businessman a blow. They're showing usthat they're anti-business," said Robert Haynes, co-owner of Sportsmen's Lounge in Northwest Baltimore.

A companion bill to place a similar ban on tobacco advertising was withdrawn from consideration, at least partly in response to weekend reports that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was divided over whether it could legally ban cigarette advertising containing the popular cartoon character Joe Camel.

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