Activists Push Public Alcohol Ad Ban In Massachusetts

Advocates are waging a battle against alcohol advertising on public property in yet another state, as the Ways and Means Committee of the Massachusetts House of Representatives considers HB851, which would ban alcohol advertising on a variety of publicly owned spaces, including transit advertising surfaces and structures owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Like similar bans proposed in other parts of the country, HB851 is being positioned as a necessary move to prevent underage individuals from being exposed to alcohol advertising messages.

Its supporters include former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis and his wife Kitty, who noted that most American cities have already banned alcohol ads on public transit. The bill’s sponsor, State Representative Martin Walsh, claims that underage drinking costs Massachusetts $1.4 billion a year.

Earlier this month, a Los Angeles advocacy group, The Coalition to Ban Alcohol Ads on Public Property in Los Angeles, began drumming up support for a municipal ban. It encouraged supporters to take pictures of alcohol ads on public property -- including bus shelters, kiosks and newspaper racks -- and send them in via text messages, along with details like proximity to schools, crosswalks, churches, parks, libraries, and community centers. 

Alcohol advertising on public property is easier to regulate than advertising on private property. There are fewer First Amendment issues when the government is involved as a market participant, which gives it the right to accept or reject certain types of advertising content similar to a private out-of-home advertising company.

Activists have several successful models for bans on alcohol advertising on public property, including a ban on alcohol advertising in public transit in San Francisco and a citywide ban on alcohol advertising on public property in Philadelphia, except for sports stadiums.

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