State Can Ban Alcohol Ads in College Newspapers, Court Rules

The state of Virginia’s alcohol regulatory board was within its rights to ban college newspapers from running alcohol-related advertising, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled.

Inside Higher Ed reported April 12 that the court ruled 2-1 to reverse a lower-court decision that had favored the student newspapers at Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia. The newspapers, The Collegiate Times and the Cavalier Daily, had sued the state over the ban, which they said violated the First Amendment and would cost them $30,000 in ad revenues annually.

The Virginia alcohol board said the ban was needed to prevent illegal underage drinking and other dangerous alcohol use by college students. The majority on the appeals court agreed.

“[A]lcohol vendors want to advertise in college student publications. It is counterintuitive for alcohol vendors to spend their money on advertisements in newspapers with relatively limited circulation, directed primarily at college students, if they believed that these ads would not increase demand by college students,” according to the decision. “The college newspapers fail to provide evidence to specifically contradict this link or to recognize the distinction between ads in mass media and those in targeted local media.”

In 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit threw out a similar ban in Pennsylvania, noting that college students would still be exposed to large amounts of alcohol advertising even if ads in school newspapers were banned.

The ACLU of Virginia, which represented the schools in the latest case, said an appeal was possible.

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