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BIG TOBACCO WINS AD RULING DECISION CLOUDS L.A. LAW BANNING SIGNS.

Byline: Rick Orlov Staff Writer

In a ruling with implications for Los Angeles, the U.S. Supreme Court said Thursday that states are prohibited from imposing their own bans on tobacco advertising beyond the warning labels required by the federal government.

The court overturned a proposed Massachusetts law that appears similar to one adopted by Los Angeles banning outdoor advertising for tobacco products on signs within 1,000 feet of a school or a playground.

its decision, the court ruled such a measure would violate constitutional provisions of free speech.

Officials with tobacco companies hailed the decision, a rare victory for an industry faced with a number of legal actions on several fronts.

``We're pleased the court agreed that these regulations went too far and struck the wrong balance,'' said William S. Ohlemeyer, the general counsel of Philip Morris Co.

The 5-4 ruling said federal regulations take precedence over the restrictions Massachusetts wanted to put into effect. Los Angeles has a similar law on the books relating to tobacco and alcohol products, with the liquor industry challenging the portion applying to it.

Despite the court opinion, City Councilman Mike Feuer, an attorney and author of the city's tobacco advertising limits, said he was not discouraged by the impact.

``While I haven't read the entire opinion, I think it's too early to say what the impact will be here,'' Feuer said. ``It seems the court was teetering on two issues and upheld the idea the state can have a compelling interest in seeking such restrictions to protect kids.''

During his recent unsuccessful campaign for city attorney, Feuer accused outdoor advertising companies of targeting him because of his sponsorship of the measure. The companies denied that.

Special Assistant City Attorney Carmel Sella said more study is needed following the court's ruling.

``We would not recommend changing the city law,'' Sella said. ``There are several pieces to this ruling and we believe the city has laid substantial groundwork to justify our law. We also think the court wants to look at these on a case-by-case basis.''

Sella pointed to a section of the ruling in which the court rejected a contention by tobacco companies that Massachusetts went too far in trying to restrict the sales of cigars and snuff to minors.

``We think we have made the case of the danger and that our law would be upheld on those points,'' Sella said. ``What they're saying is government does have an interest in protecting children from certain products.''

Officials with the outdoor advertising industry said they were encouraged by the ruling but wanted to study it before making any detailed comment.

The court was divided, with the conservative-to-moderate wing writing on the portion dealing with the federal cigarette advertisement law as taking precedence.

The opinion also gave cigarette makers a partial free speech victory, ruling that the state's plans for bans on outdoor advertising would violate the First Amendment.

However, Ken Spiker Jr., who represents two of the larger billboard firms - Eller and Royal - said he doesn't believe there will be any impact in Los Angeles.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 29, 2001
Words:513
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