Tobacco advertisers say ban could affect student journalism

NORTH CAROLINA — The struggle between tobacco interests and federal regulators has put students in the middle of what has become a heated First Amendment debate over tobacco advertising.In August, President Clinton called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco as an addictive drug. The regulations would place tighter controls on tobacco advertising. Shortly thereafter, advertising and tobacco groups filed lawsuits challenging the restrictions.At a press briefing the same day that the President announced the new restrictions, FDA Commissioner David Kessler and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala also spoke about them.Kessler said that the regulations are focused on “kids and kids only,” and that “encouraging advertising and promotion that encourages illegal behavior is simply not the right thing to do, nor is it protected under the First Amendment.” “The government can protect children” Kessler insisted. Secretary Shalala called the restrictions “the most important public health initiative in a generation.”Advertisers connected with the suit argue that the regulations, proposed by the President and supported by the Department of Health and Human Services, are unconstitutional because of the excessive way they restrict speech.”Contrary to what people may think, this [lawsuit] is not about tobacco or giving tobacco to kids” said Jeff Perlman, the American Advertising Federation’s Senior Vice President of Governmental Affairs. Perlman said that in pursuing this action, the government is not playing by the rules set down in the constitution. Where the student press is involved, Perlman said, its role as a carrier of advertising could be undermined.”If you think about the government’s definition of what the student press is…and what kinds of [publications] they can regulate, anything that carries advertising is potentially affected …anything from Boys’ Life to Foreign Affairs” Perlman said.A federal district court in North Carolina is scheduled to hold a hearing on February 10 to decide whether the case warrants a trial.