CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Advertisers today called on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the state of Virginia's ban on most alcohol advertising in college newspapers, saying the law restricts free speech.
The court should "step in to stop the growing trend of government regulators to censor more and more speech directed to adults because those at the threshold of adulthood might see it," Dan Jaffe, exec VP for government relations for the Association of National Advertisers, said in a statement.
The association is joining the 4A's and American Advertising Federation in asking the court to overturn a recent appeals court ruling that upheld the long-standing regulation. The ad groups argue that the ruling runs counter to the Supreme Court's trend of "increasing protection for commercial speech," according to a brief filed with the Supreme Court, which also points out that many students are of legal drinking age.
Virginia prohibits student-run campus publications from running alcohol ads unless they are "in reference to a dining establishment." The exempted ads cannot refer to a particular brand or price and instead must use generic phrases such as "beer," "wine" or "cocktails."
The Cavalier Daily, at the University of Virginia, and the The Collegiate Times, at Virginia Tech, each blame the law for $30,000 in lost advertising revenue annually.
The newspapers say the regulation violates their First Amendment rights and they won an initial case before a district court. But the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond overturned the ruling, finding the government has a "substantial interest" in keeping the ban in place.
The appeals court sided with the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which asserts that "history, consensus and common sense support the link between advertising bans in college newspapers and a decrease in demand for alcohol among college students," according to court filings.
The college newspapers countered that the ban on alcohol advertising is ineffective because students will still see ads for alcohol in other non-student-run publications.