County vote nears on ads for smoking Cigarette, sign companies oppose curbs on billboards

'Why do we need this?'

Proposal's sponsor calls lack of examples in area a trick

April 09, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County Council will vote next month on a bill that would ban most outdoor tobacco advertising and effectively put Joe Camel under house arrest.

The billboard and cigarette industries are lobbying hard against the proposal. And, as with the growing number of clashes nationally over tobacco advertising, some of the political maneuvering in Anne Arundel County appears to be smoke and mirrors.

During the 18 months County Councilman Thomas W. Redmond has been pushing to outlaw cigarette billboards in residential areas, all cigarette billboards in Anne Arundel County -- as many as 15 signs -- have mysteriously disappeared.

Redmond, 50, the owner of a Pasadena auto-parts shop, stopped smoking a pipe years ago because it was irritating his gums. He said he thinks the apparent retreat by the tobacco and billboard industries is a trick.

He thinks they are trying to put this spin on his bill, which is up for a vote on May 5: Why should the county waste its time banning a problem that doesn't exist?

"I'll tell you why we should pass the ban: because we had billboards just 18 months ago. And if we let my bill die, there would be nothing to prevent them from bringing them back again, perhaps in even greater numbers and once again targeting young people. And targeting young people just isn't right," said Redmond, a Democrat.

There was a curious feint in the duel over the winter, when a billboard ad for Marlboro cigarettes sprang up on Mountain Road near Outing Avenue and vanished again within 24 hours of a call Redmond made to the billboard company's lobbyist asking about the new sign, Redmond said.

The lobbyist for the two companies that own billboards in the county, Bruce C. Bereano, denied that removing the signs had anything to do with his campaign to persuade the county that the ban was unnecessary.

The cigarette companies renting signs from Penn Advertising and Universal Outdoor Advertising simply decided that their advertising dollars would have more impact in more highly populated urban areas, Bereano said.

"Why do we need this bill? There is absolutely no billboard advertising for tobacco products in Anne Arundel County. And there are no plans to put any more up. So this is absolutely a non-issue," Bereano said.

A spokesman for New York-based tobacco company Philip Morris Inc. said banning truthful cigarette advertisements from residential areas of the county might violate the free-speech rights in the First Amendment.

"Obviously, underage tobacco use is a major concern to Philip Morris, and we have taken several steps to try to address that problem," said Brendan McCormick, a company spokesman. "But we believe that the key is restricting youth access to cigarettes, not by restricting commercial free speech."

An increasing number of state and local governments across the country have been trying to restrict cigarette advertising over the past decade because of their growing frustration with a perceived lack of action at the federal level, said Cassandra Welch, a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association.

President Clinton proposed last year sweeping restrictions on tobacco advertising, including a requirement that all billboards use only black-and-white text. The resulting regulations are scheduled to take effect in August, but tobacco companies have challenged them in federal court.

From 1986 to 1992, Utah, Texas and Kentucky passed prohibitions on tobacco billboard advertising in public areas, on buses or within 500 feet of schools. And at least 10 cities -- including Long Beach, Calif.; Holyoke, Mass.; and Baltimore -- have restricted outdoor cigarette advertising.

The Baltimore City Council passed ordinances in 1994 that ban liquor and cigarette billboards in residential areas where minors would be likely to see them.

Baltimore-based Penn Advertising quickly sued Baltimore over the restrictions, but the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., upheld the city's ordinance in August 1995. The company is trying to get the Supreme Court to overturn the city's ban.

The outcome of the high court appeal might affect Anne Arundel County's proposed bill. The County Council added an amendment to the bill Monday so that it would take effect only if Baltimore's law survived the Supreme Court's review.

The county's version of the ban would outlaw all cigarette billboards in residential areas and near schools, churches and parks. It would allow the signs in industrial areas not regularly traveled by school buses. And it would permit cigarette posters on the insides of store windows, facing out.

But several convenience stores around the county would have to remove cigarette posters from the outsides of their buildings.

"I hate the idea," said Connie Hawks, the cashier at the Shell Food Mart at 103 Mountain Road, which has a large cigarette poster on its outside wall. "An awful lot of people's livelihoods are tied up in the tobacco industry, and this might hurt them."

Pub Date: 4/09/97

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