LA all but bans outdoor ads for alcohol, tobacco Law is among toughest in nation, may be challenged in court


LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles City Council passed a law yesterday that will virtually eliminate outdoor alcohol and tobacco advertising in Los Angeles.

In a hearing attended by hundreds of elementary and high-school students as well as lawyers for the beer, billboard advertising and tobacco industries and advocates for grocers' associations, the City Council unanimously voted a ban encompassing billboards, grocery store windows and other outdoor venues within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and residential areas.

The ban, one of the most restrictive in the nation, will remove alcohol and tobacco advertisements from an estimated 98 percent of the city's billboards.

About one-fourth of the land in industrial areas will still be allowed to carry such advertisements.

"Colleagues, we have a simple choice before us," said Councilman Mike Feuer, who sponsored the measure.

"Are we going to put our kids first or are we going to put alcohol, tobacco and billboard companies first?"

He later answered his own question: "Let's cater to our kids. Lets put our kids first."

Officials said they fully expected the city to be sued over the law, which will take effect one year after it is signed by Mayor Richard Riordan, who has voiced support for it.

Legal challenges to similar measures in other cities have so far met with mixed results, with laws in Baltimore and Oakland being upheld while Chicago's was struck down.

The American Civil Liberties Union chapter here sent a letter to one council member Tuesday opposing the measure, though the lawyer who drafted the letter said the group had not decided whether it will file suit if the law goes into effect.

H. Joseph Escher, a lawyer representing the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., told the council that its proposed version was identical to the Chicago law recently rejected by a U.S. District Court and that the Los Angeles ordinance violated the intent of Congress to prevent a "hodgepodge" of varying local restrictions on advertising.

Andrew Baldonado, a representative of Anheuser-Busch Cos., said at yesterday's hearing that his company was a good corporate citizen, not to mention the largest water customer in the city, and was "disappointed" to have to defend its right to advertise.

Rex Heinke, a lawyer representing Eller Media, a billboard company, said the laws were discriminatory.

"That is government censorship pure and simple," Heinke said. "The council is launching the city on a slippery slope."

But students who spoke at the hearing said the tobacco and beer companies were targeting them -- especially in minority communities -- before it is legal for them to buy either substance.

High-school students from Pacoima, a low-income area, complained that tobacco billboards lined their streets, including those by their schools.

Pub Date: 9/10/98

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