Michigan city council votes to restrict tobacco billboards

Monday, June 15, 1998

The city council in Michigan's third largest city unanimously passed an ordinance last week restricting the location of tobacco billboards.

Introduced more than a year ago by Warren City Council President Jim Fouts, the ordinance provides that tobacco billboards cannot be displayed within 1,000 feet of any school.

Fouts said: “The tobacco companies have placed seductive messages on these billboards that glamorize smoking and are universally accessible to children. This ordinance is an important first step in protecting the health of our children.”

Fouts argues that the measure does not violate First Amendment free-speech rights.
“I have a background in political science and deeply respect the Constitution. But, the First Amendment allows the government to restrict advertising if the government has a substantial interest.

“We have a substantial interest in protecting the health, safety and welfare of our young people from the harms of tobacco,” Fouts said.

However, the fact that government has a substantial interest does not necessarily mean the ordinance is constitutional, says commercial-speech expert Richard Kaplar of the Media Institute.

“Merely having a governmental interest is by no means a sufficient justification for restricting advertising,” Kaplar said. “The U.S. Supreme Court clearly stated in the Central-Hudson case that a government must meet other tests before the ad restrictions are constitutional.”

Under the U.S. Supreme Court's test established in the 1980 case Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission, a regulation that restricts nonmisleading commercial speech must directly advance a substantial government interest and not be more extensive than necessary.

Fouts said he expects the mayor to sign the ordinance soon and hopes that “other cities in Michigan and throughout the United States will follow suit.”