Council favors restrictions on tobacco billboards

February 01, 1994|By Eric Siegel and Joanna Daemmrich | Eric Siegel and Joanna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers

A bill that would ban tobacco ads on billboards almost everywhere in Baltimore received preliminary approval from the City Council last night.

That follows a landmark measure, passed by the council in December, banning alcohol billboards everywhere except in heavy industrial zones and in stadiums.

Community activists have argued that Baltimore's poor and predominantly black neighborhoods have more than their share of outdoor signs advertising liquor and cigarettes.

But liquor store owners, distributors and advertising companies have called the city bans discriminatory; a billboard company's attorney vowed yesterday to challenge the tobacco ban in court.

The tobacco bill had been slowed because some city officials were not sure that such ads could be banned. Late last year, the Federal Trade Commission reportedly was divided on whether it could ban ads with the cartoon character Joe Camel.

Yesterday's unanimous voice vote came just hours after officials said City Solicitor Neal M. Janey had ruled the bill legally sound.

The council had planned a final vote last night, but Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, chairman of the land use committee, said he decided to delay the vote because some council members wanted to see a copy of Mr. Janey's opinion.

A final vote is scheduled for next week.

"There's not that big a hurry. It's no big deal," Mr. Ambridge said.

An attorney for Penn Advertising of Baltimore Inc., which owns 90 percent of the billboards in the city and has challenged the liquor ban in court, said after the vote that the company will also sue to overturn the tobacco bill.

"Like the alcohol bill, we've been put in a position where there's no other alternative," said the attorney, Fred M. Lauer.

Earlier yesterday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke promised to support the bill.

He made his pledge before more than 60 community activists and elected officials who gathered at City Hall to celebrate the ban on liquor billboards.

The crowd clapped and whistled as the mayor once again signed the new law banning liquor billboards. He had already enacted it Jan. 6, but he pulled out his pen with a flourish again just to make sure everyone knew the ordinance was official.

"I am just so pleased to be part of this effort," he told the cheering group. "I think it's just a tremendous tribute to our city."

Mr. Schmoke said yesterday that he believes the city will prevail against the legal challenges mounted against the bills.

"We recognize there's a close connection between advertising and the use of these products in our community. We think we can win it," he said about the legal challenge.

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