WORCESTER, MA - A federal court judge ruled earlier this week that a Worcester ordinance restricting advertising for tobacco products is unconstitutional, the Boston Globe reports.
The regulation was approved by city officials last May €" but not yet enforced €" and prohibits stores from advertising specific cigarette brands on signs visible from the street. Signage could only indicate that the stores sold cigarettes.
Worcester officials said they passed the ban to counter a high incidence of tobacco use in the city, where nearly 20% of adults smoke, compared with 14% statewide.
U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock ruled the ordinance violates First Amendment rights to free speech, supporting the argument brought by the plaintiffs, Philip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Lorillard Tobacco Co. and the National Association of Tobacco Outlets Inc., a trade group.
"They contend that the City has no legitimate interest in prohibiting non-misleading advertising to adults to prevent them from making decision of which the City disapproves," Woodlock wrote in his decision. "I agree."
Philip Morris lauded the decision. "Tobacco companies have a constitutional right to communicate with adult consumers through retail advertising and this court appropriately recognized that," said Murray Garnick, a senior vice president at Altria Client Services, a subsidiary of Philip Morris€™ parent company. "We will continue to vigorously defend this right when it is challenged."
A Worcester spokesperson said city officials have not yet decided whether to appeal the decision.