Alcohol Advertising Regulations

Alcohol Advertising RegulationsAs the saying goes, bad publicity is better than no publicity at all. Legal battles over alcohol advertising regulations seem to have borne that out.

John P. Connell, P.C. pointed that out in his recent blog (Certain Advertising Practices in the Alcoholic Beverage Industry Prohibited): “Throughout the nation, alcohol industry authorities have made the news in their efforts to ban certain alcoholic beverage advertising practices. While some of those advertising violations were upheld, others proved unsuccessful and merely provided more publicity to the alcoholic beverages behind them.”

Questionable Alcohol Advertising Imagery

In New Hampshire, a state labeling law keeps a particular beer off the shelves there. Founders Breakfast Stout, brewed with coffee, flaked oats and chocolates, features a young child presumably eating from a cereal bowl… and there’s the rub: it references a minor. The Michigan brewery can sell kegs of it in New Hampshire but not bottles. Bar owners and sellers are getting vocal about it. “I don’t get it,” Andrew Day, the owner of Cask & Vine in Derry, N.H., told the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune (quoted in “New Hampshire bar owners lobby against ban on Founders Breakfast Stout”). “They allow us to sell (Founders’) Devil Dancer, which shows a naked woman being held up by the devil. There are so many more questionably offensive things that they have let pass through.”

Court Battles over Alcohol Advertising

In Virginia, the ABC Board oversees a law that “prohibits college student newspapers from printing alcohol advertisements.” The reasoning behind that alcohol advertising regulation is to combat underage and binge drinking. An eight-year legal battle ensued between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the student newspapers at Virginia Tech (The Collegiate Times) and the University of Virginia (The Cavalier Daily). The universities contended that the law was a violation of First Amendment rights.

In September 2013, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit confirmed that the ban on alcohol advertising was a First Amendment violation. At the center of the argument was the fact that the majority of readers were of legal drinking age. According to College Media Matters, “Federal Court Rules Alcohol Ads A-OK in Virginia Tech, UVA Student Newspapers,” “Today, the Fourth Circuit agreed with those counter-claims, granting the papers a hard-fought victory. It is not a statewide victory, however. The ruling as rendered apparently does not automatically apply to all student newspapers in Virginia.”

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB.gov) sets the standards for labeling and advertising wine, distilled spirits, and malt beverages, and states, “TTB’s regulations are written to prevent the deception of the consumer and provide them with ‘adequate information’ as to the identity and quality of the product, to prohibit false or misleading statements, and to provide information as to the alcohol content of the product.”