Court Holds Ban on Alcohol Advertisements in College Newspapers Unconstitutional
Alcoholic beverage producers and advertisers have a new win in the line of cases providing constitutional protection under the First Amendment to beverage industry commercial speech.
The case started because the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (the ABC) has a regulation in its administrative code prohibiting college newspapers from printing alcohol advertisements. A copy of the relevant code provision can be found here.
A group of college newspapers brought suit challenging the regulation under the first amendment.
The regulation reads:
Advertisements of alcoholic beverages are not allowed in college student publications unless in reference to a dining establishment, except as provided below. A "college student publication" is defined as any college or university publication that is prepared, edited or published primarily by students at such institution, is sanctioned as a curricular or extra-curricular activity by such institution and which is distributed or intended to be distributed primarily to persons under 21 years of age.
In getting to the heart of the matter, the Court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Central Hudson v. Electric Corp., (S.Ct. 1981), controlled that matter and that of the standards set forth in Central Hudson, the ABC regulation in this case was not “narrowly tailored” to achieve the ABC’s stated purpose of combating underage drinking and abusive college drinking.
Additionally, in a pretty stark condemnation of the ABC’s regulation, the Court said that because the majority of the newspapers readers were over 21, the state prohibition on alcohol advertisements kept adults “from receiving truthful information about a product that they are legally allowed to consume.” The Court went on to note that the state beverage control board’s regulation “attempts to keep would-be drinkers in the dark based on what the ABC perceives to be their own good.”
In finally rejecting the ABC’s contentions, the Court revived a continued understanding about this line of protection for commercial speech and noted that you cannot remove a popular but disfavorable product from the marketplace by prohibiting truthful non-misleading advertisements.