Denver City Council puts limits on tobacco billboards

Wednesday, May 27, 1998

The Denver City Council passed on third and final reading Tuesday night an ordinance that restricts the location and reduces the number of tobacco billboards allowed in the city. The council approved the measure by a vote of 9-4.

The ordinance prohibits tobacco billboards from being located within 1,000 feet of any school, park or recreation center. Also, under the terms of the ordinance, tobacco billboards may only constitute 10 percent of the number of total billboards in the city.

The original version of the ordinance, sponsored by Councilwoman Debbie Ortega, would have completely banned tobacco billboards. However, the council worked out a compromise measure with the Colorado Outdoor Advertising Association.

Jeff Dorschner, assistant to Ortega, said: “Councilwoman Ortega is very pleased that the ordinance passed. This ordinance is important for the city of Denver and especially important for the city's youth who have been disproportionately targeted by tobacco advertisers.”

Hal Ward, president of the Colorado Outdoor Advertising Association, said he is pleased the council adopted the compromise measure rather than the original version. He said: “We are not upset with the ordinance, because it is a compromise measure. In a compromise, none of the parties get everything they want. However, we were able to prevent a total ban on billboards.”

Ward said that he sees no constitutional problems with the ordinance, though he said “the prior version of the bill was a definite infringement on First Amendment rights.”

However, Steve Zansberg, one of the attorneys who represents the advertising association, said that the ordinance still has constitutional problems. “As part of the compromise reached, my client has agreed not to challenge this ordinance in court. However, our legal opinion is that the ordinance, even as amended, still violates First Amendment commercial free-speech rights.”

Zansberg said that although his client cannot challenge the ordinance in court, “this does not mean that someone else, particularly someone in the tobacco industry, will not challenge the ordinance.”

Ward said that “the ordinance will negatively affect tobacco advertising in Denver. A number of billboards will have to come down, although I don't have a precise figure yet.”