Alcohol Ads Go From on the Toilets to In the Toilet

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has approved an ordinance that bans new contracts from allowing alcohol advertisements on City property, such as newspaper racks, kiosks and public toilets.

The ordinance however, exempts current long-term contracts with JCDecaux and Clear Channel because of unusual punitive clauses barring action by the City. These companies will be allowed to continue alcohol advertising under current contracts for “Out of Home” or “Street Furniture” ads.

“The Board took decisive action to protect youth from alcohol ads in any future contracts,” stated Bruce Lee Livingston, executive director of Marin Institute, the alcohol industry watchdog. “But the progress is bittersweet since Clear Channel has a ridiculous city contract that will let them put-up alcohol ads until 2023. When my seven year-old son graduates from college the ads will be gone,” he added.

The new ordinance, introduced by San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, mirrors tobacco ad bans and follows previously enacted bans on BART and SF MUNI alcohol ads. “We put a cork in the bottle on alcohol ads with this legislation,” Mirkarimi said.

The prohibitions have made the Bay Area a state and national leader in protecting youth from dangerous alcohol advertising. Violations of the ban on MUNI carry fines of $5000 for every offending ad. Marin Institute has recommended that other cities that have authorized alcohol advertisements, like Chicago and Los Angeles, should follow suit.

“In Los Angeles it is nearly impossible to escape alcohol-related billboard advertisements,” said Alberto Melena, executive director of San Fernando Valley Partnership. “While crucial services and programs are being cut, alcohol advertising is out of control and billboard companies are making millions. Something is dreadfully wrong with this equation. It’s time for our policymakers to step-up for public health as their Bay Area counterparts have done.”

Research has consistently demonstrated that the more alcohol ads youth see, the more likely they are to drink, drink to excess, engage in harmful actions, and become alcohol-dependent. Marin Institute has calculated that in California the cost of alcohol-related harms is twice that of tobacco, exceeding $38 billion dollars annually.

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