Tobacco Companies Win Fight Over City's Advertising Ban
WORCESTER, Mass. -- A federal judge has struck down a Worcester ordinance banning outdoor tobacco advertising, declaring the city's measure unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock released his decision today in the 2011 case of The National Association of Tobacco Outlets Inc. (NATO), et al. v. City of Worcester et al., which was being heard in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts Central Division.
The judge granted summary judgment to Philip Morris USA (PM USA), other tobacco companies and retailers that filed suit this past June.
"Tobacco companies have a constitutional right to communicate with adult consumers through retail advertising and this court appropriately recognized that," Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services' senior vice president and associate general counsel said, speaking on behalf of PM USA. "Many courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have determined that the First Amendment allows us to communicate with adult consumers and we will continue to vigorously defend this right when it is challenged."
In his decision, Woodlock said the city has no legitimate interest in prohibiting "non-misleading advertising" to adults to prevent them from making decisions of which the city disapproves, according to the Worcester Telegram.
The judge also ruled that the city failed to show that the outdoor advertising regulations are more extensive than necessary to advance its substantial interest in preventing underage tobacco use. He added that Worcester officials did not make any effort in crafting the ordinance to determine what types of advertisements are most harmful to minors, the news outlet reported.
"The broad sweep of the ordinance suggests that the [city] did not consider how to tailor the restrictions so as to not unduly to burden the plaintiffs' free speech rights and the rights of adults to truthful information about tobacco products," Woodlock wrote. "Neither the city's goal to prevent tobacco-related health problems among adults, nor its correlative goal regarding minors, provides a basis for the ordinance."
Worcester City Solicitor David Moore said city officials were disappointed by the ruling, but hadn't yet decided whether they would appeal the case, according to The Associated Press.