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Va. bans alcohol ads in college papers

Jenna Johnson

Want to know the Thursday night drink specials at bars near Virginia campuses? Well, don't look in one of the most obvious places, a campus newspaper.

Last week a Virginia federal appeals court reinstated an Alcoholic Beverage Control Board ban on alcohol advertisements in student newspapers, citing a link between restricted advertising and reduced binge drinking, the Collegiate Times reports. The newspapers can now only use the words beer, wine, mixed drink or cocktail in ads for dining establishments, and there can be no mentions of happy hour or drink specials.

The Collegiate Times at Virginia Tech and the Cavalier Daily newspaper at the University of Virginia filed a complaint against the control board ban in 2006, arguing that the restriction limited their freedom of speech. The newspapers argued that there was no proof that alcohol advertisements directly caused students to binge drink and students have access to such ads elsewhere. Plus, a majority of their readers are over 21.

Because of the ban, each newspaper said it lost about $30,000 in advertising revenue each year. An earlier court sided with the student newspapers, upholding their free-speech rights, but the control board appealed and won.

In the 2-to-1 ruling, the judges wrote that college publications "target college students and play an inimitable role on campus."

This link is also supported by the fact that alcohol vendors want to advertise in college student publications. It is counterintuitive for alcohol vendors to spend their money on advertisements in newspapers with relatively limited circulation, directed primarily at college students, if they believed that these ads would not increase demand by college students.

The dissenting judge, Norman K. Moon, countered that a majority of college newspaper readers are over 21 and that evidence for linking alcohol ads in college newspapers to underage or abusive drinking is "speculative, at best."

It is objectionable that the Commonwealth's rationale for the regulation applies only to underage and abusive drinking, while the regulation itself applies much more broadly. In free speech cases, it is dangerous and unwise to sustain broad regulations for narrow reasons.

ACLU Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg told the Student Press Law Center that the ban interferes with "editorial decision making of students, editors, and journalists."

"There were better ways for the state to try and address those problems without infringing on the free speech rights of newspapers and students," Glenberg said.

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By Jenna Johnson  |  April 15, 2010; 8:41 AM ET
Categories:  Campus Media  | Tags: University of Virginia, VA Tech  
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Comments

This is only going to hurt the newspapers, which I'm sure generally don't have a sizeable budget anyways. Not a good move.

Posted by: 1234streets | April 15, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like government interference to me. Isn't that what the GOP is against?

Posted by: jckdoors | April 16, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like government interference to me. Isn't that what the GOP is against?

Posted by: jckdoors | April 16, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

"...a majority of college newspaper readers are over 21..."

Let's see: kids graduate from high school at 18, so at the end of their sophomore year at college they are probably 20. Adjusting for drop outs, that means that there is probably a majority of students UNDER the age of 21. Is there any reason to believe that more upperclassmen/women read the student newspaper than underclassmen/women?

Posted by: jblatt | April 16, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Although students generally begin college under the age of 21, there are quite a number of students who may have worked before attending college, served in the military (a 3-4 year enlistment period would have them returning to civilian life at 21 or older), and finally these are not just "colleges" but in fact universities with post-graduate programs which would have students over 21.

Posted by: LMarie1 | April 17, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

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