Supreme Court rules against Massachusetts in tobacco case
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that states don't have a right to restrict outdoor tobacco advertising close to schools and public parks, beyond limitations set by federal law.
The unanimous ruling, stemming from a Massachusetts case, was a victory for tobacco companies, which had argued that the state restrictions were a violation of free speech.
The Massachusetts law in question barred tobacco ads within 1,000 feet of public playgrounds, parks and schools.
Tobacco companies argued that a 1960s federal law requiring the surgeon general's health warning on cigarette packages and limiting advertising pre-empts states from imposing separate ad restrictions. The companies also raised a First Amendment claim for "commercial speech."
The ruling, while unanimous, was complicated and extensive. The justices did allow certain practices and restrictions inside stores aimed at keeping cigarettes out of the hands of children, but they agreed on the basic premise that federal law takes precedence over state restrictions.
Massachusetts' plan to ban tobacco ads near playgrounds and schools has been on hold pending the high court ruling.
The court's ruling focused narrowly on the language of the Massachusetts ad ban, but the justices' reasoning would extend to any other state contemplating similar restrictions.
The state law also required that tobacco products be kept behind store counters, and it prohibited advertising at children's eye level.
The state cited reports by the Food and Drug Administration and the surgeon general that tobacco advertising significantly influences children's tobacco use.
"From a policy perspective, it is understandable for the states to attempt to prevent minors from using tobacco products before they reach an age where they are capable of weighing for themselves the risks and potential benefits of tobacco use, and other adult activities," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote. "Federal law, however, places limits on policy choices available to the states."
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