The Marlboro Man, who for decades has linked smoking to the great outdoors, may be forced to go inside.
During a meeting on the day of the Great American Smokeout, the Spokane Regional Health Board voted to ask billboard companies not to run tobacco ads anywhere in the county.
But that’s only the first step; the health board said it will consider a resolution early next year banning tobacco ads on billboards and store-front signs. The law also would apply to indoor advertisements that can be seen from sidewalks or streets.
“Hopefully, the end result will be a total ban,” said Airway Heights Mayor Don Harmon, an ex-smoker and member of the health board.
Duane Halliday, vice president of Pridemark Outdoor Advertising, said his company has about 500 billboard faces countywide. Typically, about 25 of them carry tobacco ads, although the number changes from month to month.
That’s not likely to change with the health board’s request, he said.
“We’re not in the business to censor advertising. We provide advertising space for legal products and (tobacco is) a legal product,” Halliday said.
If the ban becomes law, tobacco companies likely will sue.
Earlier this year, Pierce County became the first local government in the nation to successfully ban outdoor tobacco advertising. Total bans in other states were overturned, with tobacco companies arguing that Congress pre-empted local advertising restrictions when it required warning labels on cigarette packages.
Pierce County survived a court challenge by citing a Supreme Court decision that predates Congress’ mandate, Cliff Allo, attorney for the Tacoma/Pierce County Health Department, told Spokane health board members Thursday.
In that 1932 case, involving the state of Utah, justices ruled that outdoor tobacco ads can be regulated because they “intrude into public space” and “can’t be turned off like radios,” Allo said.
Parents can prevent their children from seeing advertisements in magazines and on television, Allo said. They can’t stop them from looking at billboards.
“It’s hard to tell a kid, ‘Just don’t turn toward the northeast when you’re waiting for the bus,”’ he said.
Allo said tobacco companies already are appealing their loss in his county. He predicted they’ll file another suit, claiming the regulation violates their First Amendment rights of free speech.
He plans to counter that the ads aren’t protected because the message they send - that tobacco improves the lives of users - is false.
“We’re going to say Joe Camel is not truthful. We’re going to say (images of) cocktail parties that make smoking look glamorous are not truthful,” he said.
The Spokane County ordinance would be modeled after Pierce County’s. But not everyone is following that lead.
Members of the Snohomish County Health District on Tuesday rejected a ban identical to Pierce County’s. Store owners fought the ban, saying peer pressure, not flashy ads, leads kids to smoke.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo