Alcohol Ad Ban
by David J. Hanson, Ph. D.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. It protects the right of protestors to burn the American Stars and Stripes but apparently not to publish alcohol ads in a newspaper.
Pennsylvania law (Act 199) prohibits placement of alcohol ads in any publication related to an educational institution, including newspapers, yearbooks, and sports programs. The law even applies to college radio and television stations.
The Pitt News, which is both financially and editorially independent of the University of Pittsburgh, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the law, which was upheld by a U.S. District Court judge.
The ACLU argued that the law violated the First Amendment guarantee of free speech by dictating what newspapers cannot publish. It said that "there is no greater censorship."
Instead of accepting alcohol ads, the newspaper now reports as news information on drinks specials featured by local bars and restaurants. The law is costing the newspaper about $17,000 annually in lost revenues.
A Pennsylvania State University expert reported that advertising affects brand loyalty but not how much alcohol is consumed.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) expressed displeasure that the newspaper was allowed to present news about drink specials to its readers, nearly three- fourths of whom are age 21 or older.
- Schackner, B. Pitt News sidesteps ban on liquor ads. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. February 20, 2003.