COURT OKS LIMITS ON LIQUOR ADS

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A state may restrict liquor ads as a way to limit alcohol consumption, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston affirmed a Rhode Island law banning price advertising by liquor marketers, recognizing temperance as a reasonable goal of the state.

That conclusion, the first of three keenly anticipated alcohol advertising/labeling cases to be considered by the courts this year, clashes with advertising and alcohol industries' claims that advertising doesn't increase consumption, but shifts it from one brand to another.

The other two cases involve Coors Brewing Co.'s challenge of a federal ordinance pro- hibiting alcohol content statements on beer labels and the alcohol and advertising industries' fight against Baltimore's ban on alcohol-promoting outdoor boards. Coors will present oral arguments Nov. 30 before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Baltimore case is awaiting a hearing date in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

"The Coors case-which we think will deal with many of the same issues raised in the Rhode Island case-and the Baltimore case could give us a definitive answer as to how alcohol advertising can be treated under the First Amendment," said Dan Jaffe, exec VP, Association of National Advertisers. "It's highly likely those three will determine once and for all how alcohol adver- tising will be regulated."

Alcohol advertising foes lauded the Rhode Island decision.

George Hacker, director of the Alcohol Policies Project for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said, "It's very significant how this case was decided-as a speech case-and is another nail in the coffin of those who assert that alcohol advertisers have unlimited rights."

The appeals court decision in Boston stems from a 1993 lawsuit filed by Johnstown, R.I., liquor retailer 44 Liquormart, challenging the state's 38-year-old ban on price advertising.

A nearby Massachusetts retail liquor vendor, Peoples Super Liquor Stores, filed a similar suit challenging a parallel Rhode Island statute that bars price advertising by out-of-state vendors using in-state media.

Rebecca Partington, who argued the case for Rhode Island, said the ruling would have only limited impact outside the state.

"The fact that it was about a vice played a big role," Ms. Partington said. "But it lets other states know that they have a lot of power to regulate alcohol advertising ... and that you don't have to show that advertising affects consumption."

Tom McGrew, an advertising attorney with Arnold & Porter, Washington, said he has trouble with parts of the decision.

"This is purely protectionist advertising because if you want, you can use nude women and the state has no problem with that, only with advertising price," Mr. McGrew said.

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