Vice Squad
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Alcohol Advertising in College Newspapers

The state of Virginia has a law that bans most alcohol advertising in college newspapers. Make that, they had a law -- a federal court has declared the law to be a violation of free speech guarantees. As a matter of law, the decision probably is sound. The state provides no evidence that the ad ban actually promotes the cause of reduced underage drinking -- and hence one of the planks of the "Central Hudson" test governing US commercial speech jurisprudence, that a valid regulation has to directly advance some substantial government interest, is not met. But as a matter of policy, I wonder if the standard approach to commercial speech is appropriate for vice-related goods. Not just "wonder" -- I believe that stricter controls on commercial vice speech will lead to increased freedom, as more vices will be legal if their advertising can effectively be controlled. (I prefer a version of the Posadas approach.)

Hard liquor advertising probably will continue to stay away from Virginia's college newspapers: the code of conduct for the spirits trade association does not allow ads in college papers. The Beer Institute's code has no such rule, but does preclude advertising that doesn't comply with a college's own regulations.

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