Anti-Tobacco Activists Make Gains, Arguing the Need to Protect Youths

Outdoor tobacco advertising has fallen off sharply in the past 15 years, as moves to ban it pick up momentum

REVERE National Corporation is one of the largest outdoor advertising companies in America, controlling 7,000 signs in such cities as Philadelphia, Washington, and San Antonio. About 20 percent of Revere's revenues comes from tobacco.

So, it comes as some surprise that Revere is now planning for the day when outdoor tobacco advertising will be banned.

``Our assumption is that it will probably go to zero,'' says John Castle, chairman of Castle Harlan, Inc., a New York merchant bank, which owns a majority of Revere.

Baltimore, which banned outdoor ads for alcohol in January, is considering a bill to prohibit all outdoor tobacco advertising in the city. The sponsors of the legislation, the City-wide Liquor Coalition for Better Laws and Regulations, claim that they have the votes to get it through the City Council on Monday.

``Our primary reason for going after this type of type of advertising is that it is targeted to lower income or African-American communities and primarily toward young children,'' says Bev Thomas, co-chairperson. A coalition member says inquiries about the legislation have come from groups in Minneapolis; Columbus, Ohio; Cleveland; and Little Rock, Ark.

Nationally, however, most legislators still are concentrating on limiting tobacco advertising around schools. On Nov. 22, Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California proposed legislation banning tobacco advertising within 2,000 feet of any school with students under 18. The bill would also ban tobacco advertising in sports stadiums or other sporting facilities. Out of 28 major-league ballparks, 18 have voluntarily removed tobacco billboards. In New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has asked the New York Mets and the Yankees to remove their tobacco ads by opening day.

Under Mr. Waxman's bill, any remaining outdoor ads could not make representations regarding levels of nicotine, tar, or safety. The legislation has had no hearings yet.

A spokesperson for Waxman says the United States surgeon general, Jocelyn Elders, supports the bill, which also requires stiffer warning labels on tobacco. The proposed legislation may get an added push today when the surgeon General releases the 23rd Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health. According to one source who consulted on the report, the surgeon general will target tobacco advertising aimed at children.

In order to try to prevent tobacco companies from appealing to young smokers, Brooklyn Center, Minn., is considering a ban on tobacco advertising at the point of sale, sometimes called indoor billboards.

``We have tried to construct the proposal to get out the cartoon camels, sexy models, and cowboys - all those things targeted to young people to recruit them to a deadly habit,'' says Todd Paulson, mayor of the community. However, Mr. Paulson says the community is delaying the passage of the act until the town can team up with other municipalities to share the legal costs of any challenge to the legislation.

It seems likely that there will be some legal challenges. When the tobacco companies agreed to warning labels on cigarette packs in 1965, Congress preempted states from any further restriction on tobacco advertising relating to public health. Last week, this preemption convinced a Washington State legislator to withdraw a bill banning outdoor advertising for alcohol, tobacco, or firearms within 1,000 feet of school grounds. However, Seattle recently passed legislation banning all outdoor advertising within 500 feet of a school.

This type of ban irritates the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, Inc. (OAAA), a trade group, which complains about the First Amendment implications of banning the advertising of a legal product.

In a prior 1986 congressional attempt to restrict outdoor tobacco advertising, the industry complained that it could not afford to lose the business. However, tobacco's share of outdoor advertising is steadily declining. According to the OAAA, tobacco represented only 8 percent of all outdoor expenditures last year, down from 40.3 percent in 1979.

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