Billboard appeals return to high court Tobacco, liquor advertisers argue Baltimore measures are unconstitutional

March 12, 1997|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Baltimore's ordinances that restrict cigarette and liquor billboards, under attack in the courts since their passage three years ago and never enforced, face a new round of challenges in the Supreme Court.

In two separate appeals filed this week, advertisers and marketers of cigarettes and liquor argued that the Baltimore ordinances are unconstitutional. The challengers lambasted a federal appeals court for upholding them without looking into whether the city had a real need for the billboard limits.

Under the two ordinances, billboards and other outdoor signs that promote cigarettes or alcohol are banned in city areas where minors are likely to see them.

The Supreme Court is likely to act on the cases in the spring or early summer. The cigarette case, in particular, could give the court its first opportunity to react to growing government efforts -- at federal, state and local levels -- to curb teen-age smoking by restricting cigarette ads and promotions.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled in favor of the city's ordinances in November. The appeals court said that "children deserve special solicitude because they lack the ability to assess and analyze fully the information presented through commercial media."

The most visible maneuver in the government assault on teen-age smoking is the Clinton administration's wide-ranging rules to curb cigarette marketing, which a federal judge in North Carolina is reviewing. States and cities, too, are increasing their attacks on cigarette advertisements.

Lawyers for Penn Advertising of Baltimore Inc., in their new appeal challenging the city's cigarette billboard restriction, said the outcome of the case would have a significant influence on how far governments can go to restrict cigarette promotions.

The new appeals put the Baltimore ordinances before the Supreme Court for the second time in a year. During its last term, the court sent the cases back to the appeals court in Richmond for another look, to take into account a decision by the justices in May that provided new protection for the First Amendment freedom of advertisers.

The appeals court swiftly upheld the ordinances again, setting the stage for the latest appeals.

Pub Date: 3/12/97

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