June 1, 1999

Legislative Activity

Washington, D.C. Ad Ban

On June 1, 1999, AAF Senior Vice President-Government Affairs Jeff Perlman testifiedbefore the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs of the District of Columbia City Council in opposition to a bill that would greatly restrict outdoor alcoholic beverage advertising in the city.

Council Bill 13-39 would prohibit alcoholic beverage advertisements within 1,000 feet of a school, public or private playground, licensed day care center, youth center, Boys or Girls Club, YMCA or YWCA, family amusement center, video arcade, gymnasium, public swimming pool, or designated school bus stop. If enacted, the bill would create a virtual ban on outdoor alcoholic beverage advertising in the city.

The bill is sponsored or co-sponsored by seven of the 13 council members. However, the chair of the committee, Sharon Ambrose, is not a co-sponsor and appeared very sympathetic to the First-Amendment implications of the proposal.

No further action is currently scheduled for the bill. AAF will continue to register opposition to any proposals to ban truthful advertising for commercial speech. We will keep you informed of further developments.

Please contact Jeff Perlman at (202) 898-0089 or by e-mail at jperlman@aaf.org if you have any questions or would like a copy of the bill.

Testimony in opposition to Council Bill 13-39 before the District of Columbia City Council

June 1, 1999
Jeff Perlman
Senior Vice President
American Advertising Federation

Good day. My name is Jeff Perlman, senior vice-president for government affairs for the American Advertising Federation. I live and work here in the District of Columbia. I am testifying in opposition to Council Bill 13-39, which would ban virtually all outdoor alcohol advertising in the district.

I am testifying today on behalf of my employer, the American Advertising Federation and our local affiliate, the Advertising Club of Metro Washington. The AAF is the unifying voice for advertising. It is the only national organization which represents all aspects of the advertising industry - advertisers, agencies and the media, and over 50,000 individuals nationwide. The Advertising Club of Metro Washington consists of nearly 1,000 advertising professionals who live and work in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

Numerous U.S. Supreme Court decisions make it crystal clear that the proposal under consideration today are unconstitutional. In 1997, in 44 Liquormart v. Rhode Island the Court unanimously affirmed that truthful commercial speech about legal products is protected by the First Amendment. Significantly today, that case was specifically about alcohol advertising.

To be valid, government restrictions on such speech have traditionally been required to pass the so-called Central Hudson test. That is, they must be narrowly tailored and proven to materially advance a substantial interest. This bill does not meet that test.

Advertising has not been shown to be a determining factor in an underage person's decision to drink alcoholic beverages. Therefore, it stands to reason that reducing advertising will not reduce underage consumption. Experience bears this out. Where enacted in other countries, product specific advertising bans have not resulted in reduced underage consumption of the products.

Keeping alcoholic beverages away from underage consumers is an admirable goal, and one which the advertising industry fully supports and has helped to further through numerous national and local public service campaigns. However, this paternalistic bill simply will not advance that goal.

As Justice Stevens stated in his 44 Liquormart decision a "legislature does not have the broad discretion to suppress truthful , nonmisleading information for paternalistic purposes."

The Court also said in 44 Liquormart that "when a State entirely prohibits the dissemination of truthful, nonmisleading commercial messages for reasons unrelated to the preservation of a fair bargaining process, there is far less reason to depart from the rigorous review that the First Amendment generally demands."

This bill is a "feel good" way of superficially addressing underage drinking, but does nothing to solve the underlying problems. In fact, it may actually do harm. As Justice Stevens said in his 44 Liquormart decision, "commercial speech bans not only hinder consumer choice, but also impede debate over central issues of public policy."

The bill is far from the least restrictive means of reducing consumption. Do not forget, that sale of alcoholic beverages to underage consumers is illegal. Simply enforcing existing laws restricting underage access to alcoholic beverages would go a long way towards solving the problem.

Another major component of the solution is increased education. Young people must be aware of both the legal and health related consequences of drinking alcoholic beverages. My children are in D.C. public elementary schools. To the best of my knowledge, they have never been exposed therein to the problems of underage drinking.

Both the advertising industry and product manufacturers have produced numerous public service announcements about the dangers of alcohol abuse and drunk driving as well as discouraging underage consumption. The district should work affirmatively with industry to even further improve these efforts.

PSAs are not the only way to educate youth, but they demonstrate the industry's commitment to solving these problems. Again we encourage you to consider ways the district and industry can work together to educate our young people.

Finally, as a citizen of the district, who cares about the well being of the city, I am concerned about the message sent by this bill. It sends the message that the District of Columbia is hostile to advertising. It says that the district is looking for the easy way out rather than enforcement and education - more difficult, but more effective.

I urge you reject this bill. Thank you.