Vol. 10, No. 1  August 1998

Federal Judge Blocks Chicago Billboard Ban

Senior U.S. District Judge Milton I. Shadur recently ruled that Chicago’s ban on alcohol and tobacco billboards was preempted by the 1969 federal law that imposed a warning notice on advertising for cigarettes. That law restricted local and state governments from regulating the promotion or advertising of cigarettes based on smoking and health. Although he found that the federal preemption applied only to the tobacco portion of the Chicago ordinance, Judge Shadur nonetheless threw out the entire law, noting the ordinance’s lack of a specific "severability" clause and the intricate interweaving of the alcohol and tobacco provisions. Because the case was decided on statutory grounds, the court did not address Constitutional First Amendment concerns.

The decision provides guidance to activists for alcohol billboard control. Where politically practical, it seems advisable — as happened in Baltimore — to promote alcohol and tobacco billboard bans in separate pieces of legislation. Recall, however, that the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld both the alcohol and tobacco billboard bans in Baltimore, in contrast to the Chicago decision. Another case, on appeal to the 9th Circuit, involving Tacoma, Washington’s tobacco billboard ban, will soon consider the preemption issue. Due to the varying decisions in the Circuit Courts, a review by the U.S. Supreme Court may occur in the future.

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