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Saturday, December 02, 2023
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

The appeal of alcohol

Federal appeals court upholds alcohol ban in student newspapers

Last Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the alcohol regulatory board in the state of Virginia can ban alcohol-related advertisements in student newspapers. The 2-1 decision will cause two of the state's college newspapers- Virginia Tech's The Collegiate Times and the University of Virginia's The Cavalier Daily- to each lose approximately $30,000 in advertising revenue.
What's $30,000 these days? Think of it this way—if The Spectrum lost that much money, you wouldn't be reading this right now.
Initially, the publications successfully challenged the ban as a lower court found that it was in violation of the advertisers' and newspapers' First Amendment rights.
The federal appeals court reversed that ruling, however, citing previous precedents that establish the First Amendment as not protecting advertisements that promote illegal activity. The illegal activity in this case is underage drinking.
The court decided that there is a direct link between alcohol-related advertisements in college newspapers and the demand for alcohol amongst underage students, citing "alcohol vendors want to advertise in college student publications." According to the court, the college newspapers failed to produce evidence that specifically contradicts the link.
The dissenting opinion, written by Judge Norman K. Moon, accused the link established by the majority opinion of being little more than "speculation and conjecture," which would not qualify it as enough to block the First Amendment rights of the advertisers and newspapers.
Moon cited a similar case in Pennsylvania in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit blocked what was virtually the same dilemma as the current one in Virginia.
The judges in the Pennsylvania case, which involved the student newspaper at the University of Pittsburgh, decided that banning alcohol-related advertisements in the newspaper would do little, if anything, to stop students from drinking. They realized that alcohol ads are everywhere—television, billboards, other newspapers, magazines and the radio.
The author of the Pennsylvania case's decision, Samuel Alito, argued that there is not sufficient evidence to support the theory that removing alcohol-related ads from a student newspaper will reduce underage drinking. Alito has since been promoted to the Supreme Court.
Long story short: College students are already blitzed with alcohol-related advertisements regardless of where they come from and a large portion of them are going to find a way to drink whether they saw it in their student newspaper or not.
The court, along with the alcohol regulatory board, is also making it sound like the advertisements are specifically targeting students who are underage. Taking upperclassmen, graduate students, faculty and staff into account, it is safe to say that a significant portion (if not a significant majority) of a college newspaper's readership is indeed over the age of 21.
In addition, even if an underage student is seduced by an alcohol-related ad, bars, restaurants and stores should be checking for proper identification, which would prevent the potential problem.
The federal court got the ruling wrong. A decision that will do very little to hinder underage college students from drinking will in actuality hinder students from producing and reading their campus publications.



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