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New Tobacco Regulation Violates First Amendment Rights, Critics Say

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Opponents of the tobacco-regulation bill passed by Congress last week say the measure infringes upon their free-speech rights by outlawing legal advertising and cutting off communication with adults, the New York Times reported June 16.

The legislation, which President Obama says he will sign, would ban outdoor advertising within 1,000 feet of school and playgrounds, limit advertisements in stores and print to black-and-white text, and prohibit tobacco companies from sponsoring sporting or cultural events.

“Anybody looking at this in a fair way would say the effort here is not just to protect kids, whish is a substantial interest of the country, but to make it virtually impossible to communicate with anybody. We think this creates very serious problems for the First Amendment,” said Daniel L. Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, who along with the American Civil Liberties Union predicts that federal courts will reject the new marketing parameters.

However, supporters of the new legislation said the law was crafted to conform to the Constitution, and point to recent studies showing that young people respond to cigarette advertising even when it is ostensibly geared toward adult consumers.

“Frankly, the tobacco industry and the advertising industry have never heard of an advertising restriction that they thought was constitutional,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group that has been very vocal in its support of the new regulations. “In this case, great care was taken to permit black-and-white text advertising that permits them to communicate whatever truthful information they have.”

The ad restrictions are expected to go into effect about a year after the new law is enacted.

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