Pa. attorney general drops fight against alcohol ads

PENNSYLVANIA — Two of the largest student newspapers in the state are reporting an increase in advertising sales following the end of a successful five-year legal battle to overturn a 1996 state law banning alcohol ads in student publications.

Bethany Litzinger, business manager for the University of Pittsburgh’s Pitt News, which filed a suit contesting the law in 1999, said the paper has some new clients and many of their current advertisers are excited about being able to advertise alcohol. Some businesses have been running more ads while others changed their ads to include alcohol specials, Litzinger said.

At Penn State University, Daily Collegian advertising manager Beth Horn said although the paper’s revenue is up, some businesses are waiting to see what ads run before placing their own. She also said some businesses are waiting, uncertain about whether the ruling is final.

“We just let all of the clients know [about the ruling] and it was their decision if they wanted to incorporate it into their advertising plans,” she said.

Both Litzinger and Horn said their papers have actively solicited advertising, but neither had estimates about revenue or the number of alcohol ads run.

Litzinger said the paper is trying to downplay the ruling.

“We are trying to not be boastful in any way or put any thoughts in the minds of administrators or others in the community who weren’t happy about the overturn,” she said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled July 29 that Act 199, which imposed fines on businesses that advertised alcohol in student publications, was unconstitutional. The court said it placed an unfair financial burden on a small part of the media.

Although fines only applied to businesses–not newspapers–thousands of dollars in ad revenue were lost annually.

Pennsylvania Attorney General spokesman Scott Connelly said the office will not appeal the decision. The Supreme Court is typically unwilling to enforce bans on a specific type of media, such as college newspapers, he said.

Vic Walczak, an ACLU attorney who represented the students, said the district court’s ruling marks the end of a drawn-out battle.

“It is over,” he said. “The fat lady has sung.”

View the court’s decision in The Pitt News v. Pappert, No. 03-1725 (3rd Cir., July 29, 2004).
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Read previous coverage:

  • Court throws out Pa. alcohol ad ban
  • Appeals court hears challenge to Pa. ban on alcohol ads in student newspapers News Flash, 1/27/2003
  • Penn. college newspapers hurt by anti-alcohol advertising law News Flash, 9/26/2003
  • Alcohol ad ban for Pa. student press is not unconstitutional, federal court rules News Flash, 2/21/2003
  • Supreme Court refuses to hear paper’s appeal The Report, Spring 2001
  • High Court refuses to hear appeal of state law banning alcohol ads in student publications News Flash, 1/22/2001
  • Students ask High Court to overturn state ban on alcohol advertising in college publications The Report, Winter 2000-2001
  • Court upholds state ban on alcohol advertising in college newspapers The Report, Fall 2000
  • Federal court of appeals upholds state ban on alcohol ads in college newspapers News Flash, 6/8/2000
  • Battle brews over alcohol ads in college media The Report, Fall 1999
  • Students and ACLU fight for the right to advertise alcohol in newspapers The Report, Spring 1999
  • Modern day Prohibition The Report, Fall 1998
  • Penn State editor counters state ad ban The Report, Spring 1998