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Tobacco marketers must be starting to feel a little like George Custer at the Little Big Horn.

Already fighting federal anti-tobacco initiatives in Congress and independent agencies, cigarette advertisers now find themselves under attack by cities and states anxious to curb tobacco use.

In California, Democratic state Sen. Gary Hart is pushing for passage of a bill he introduced that would deny tax deductibility for tobacco marketing expenditures.

The Association of National Advertisers, which flatly asserted the bill was unconstitutional, was among opponents during a public hearing last week.

"It is an open effort to manipulate tax liability to discourage lawful speech with which the bill's sponsors disagree," said Senior VP Dan Jaffe. If the measure becomes law, "the tax code could become a vehicle for punishing any advertising, which a shifting majority of the Legislature decides is not presently `politically correct.' Once this door is opened, the advertising deduction for any product or service that becomes `controversial' will be at risk."

A vote by the California Senate Revenue & Taxation Committee was pending. And a tobacco bill that aimed at the heart of Joe Camel passed its first major hurdle March 4 in Vermont. Democratic State Rep. Karen Kitzmiller is behind legislation to ban use of cartoon figures in advertising for what she called addictive substances, including tobacco and alcohol.

Rep. Kitzmiller dismissed arguments by ad industry representatives that the measure would impose unconstitutional restrictions on commercial speech.

"I believe we've dealt with the First Amendment well," she said. "There is a clear distinction between the protection of commercial speech and of political speech, so there's no problem there. Our attorney general said that, as did 20 other attorneys." Rep. Kitzmiller said she hoped the bill would be voted on this week or next by the full House following its passage by a House committee. In Baltimore, the City Council last week voted to restrict outdoor tobacco advertising. Only a few weeks after passing a similar measure targeting alcohol outdoor boards, the council adopted an ordinance prohibiting tobacco ads on outdoor boards and on the sides of buildings. Anheuser-Busch Cos. and Penn Advertising, owner of most boards in Baltimore, already have filed suit against the alcohol ad ban.

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