NEWS- Cheers: <i>Cav Daily</i> sues to run booze ads

There's one issue Wahoos and Hokies– or at least their school papers– can both drink to: the publications should be allowed to run ads for alcoholic products.  

The Cavalier Daily and Collegiate Times, represented by the ACLU, filed suit June 9 against the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control, which has been prohibiting ads for alcohol in college papers.

"This was brought to our attention by the Collegiate Times last fall," says Virginia ACLU's legal director, Rebecca Glenberg. "Once we saw the regulation and looked into it, we concluded it was not Constitutional."

Glenberg points to a similar case two years ago in Pennsylvania in which a federal appeals court ruled that the law was unconstitutional and violated the First Amendment rights of college newspapers. That Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision was written by Samuel Alito, now sitting on the Supreme Court, Glenberg notes.

Virginia's regulation cites college student publications "intended to be distributed primarily to persons under 21 years of age." Both papers have had to turn down alcohol ads because of the prohibition.

"College newspapers have as audiences entire university communities, not just underage students," says Glenberg, listing grad students, faculty, and staff. "They have a substantial audience who can drink legally."

Will ads for beer in the Cav Daily create a thirst that must be quenched for underage students?

"We have so far not found any evidence that banning ads has done anything to affect college drinking," says Glenberg. "It's up to the state to show a connection between this censorship and the goals they hope to achieve. There are many ways to deal with the problem of underage drinking. This does not seem to have an effect, and is an infringement of free speech."

The Attorney General's office represents the ABC, and will respond to the suit "in due course," says spokesman Davide Clementson. 

The ban on booze ads in college papers came in 1988, after the drinking age was raised to 21 in Virginia in 1985, according to Beth Stone, public relations specialist for the ABC. Before that, college papers could carry ads for beer– but not for wine and distilled spirits, says Stone.

Should a defiant college newspaper run a Bacardi ad, the student journalists would not be the target of ABC's wrath; the distiller would. "We do not regulate college newspapers," says Stone. "We regulate the licensee. If Crown Royal ran an ad, it could face civil penalties of $500."

Cav Daily editor Mike Slaven says the paper, which supports itself through advertising sales, had been thinking about challenging the state regulation even before the Third Circuit ruled on Pitt News v. Pappert. "It's been something that's been discussed the past few years with editors and counsel," he says.

When the Collegiate Times approached the CD, the paper decided the time was right. Both papers, Slaven adds, are independent from their schools' administrations.

Independent, yes, but they're still seen as an extension of the university, counters Susan Bruce, executive director of UVA's Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse Education.

"If you have students and parents coming in from outside, as they are this summer for orientation," Bruce says, "sure the paper is self-run, but what's the image they're presenting?" 

She questions the appropriateness of alcohol ads when not all students drink. A recent survey shows that one third of first-years said they hadn't consumed any alcohol in the past 30 days, says Bruce. "Some feel they have to promote UVA as a party school, but that's not necessarily right. I don't want students who don't drink to feel isolated."

Bruce visits the Cav Daily office every year to remind the advertising department of the state's prohibition about alcohol ads. Should that restriction be dropped, she'll continue to work with students to understand "how to you use this legal drug."

Virginia, New Hampshire, and Utah are the only states that restrict alcohol advertising in college papers, and Bruce is not surprised to see the law challenged here. "As soon as I saw the court case in Pennsylvania," she says, "I wondered."

Cav Daily editor Mike Slaven objects to the Virginia ABC dictating content in college papers, and has joined Virginia Tech in a lawsuit.