Berkeley has stepped into the ring in the fight against big tobacco.
Tuesday night the City Council unanimously passed a resolution asking local newspapers to voluntarily refrain from running tobacco ads, or to accompany them with an anti-smoking ad of equal size.
The resolution, which passed 8-0 with Councilmember Diane Woolley abstaining, is intended to combat the tobacco companies advertising onslaught targeting teenagers. And it called for newspapers to prepare to fight any legal challenges advertisers may bring against them in any free-speech issues that rejecting to run the ads may create.
The resolution will be sent to the managing editors of eight major papers: The Bay Times, the East Bay Express, Metro, The Oakland Tribune, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Weekly.
Aware and concerned with any free speech issues, Mayor Shirley Dean said that it would be “voluntary and therefore constitutional.” Dean proposed the resolution.
“I don’t agree that this is dictating to anyone,” she said. “It’s not the city telling newspapers what to do or interfering. I think that would be improper.”
Dean cited a quote by Steve Falk, president of the San Francisco Newspaper Agency, given to the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday, saying that “it is a topic we would want to discuss, not just because the Berkeley City Council brought it up, but it is also a topic on the minds of our readers,”
“I think that is important,” the Mayor said. “I’m just happy to open the discussion.”
Councilmember Diane Wool ley, a former reporter and the only member of the council that abstained in the voting, said that though she doesn’t personally encourage smoking, she doesn’t think that government should get involved. Especially with such a small scope of newspapers, when magazines are preferred by tobacco advertisers.
The discussion that led to the recommendation cited the $5.6 billion tobacco companies spend on ads in magazines with high youth readership, such as Sports Illustrated and People, but noted that some recent editions of the Bay Guardian have included 10 full page tobacco ads.
“Here we have a selected group of newspapers being asked to give up tobacco ads,” Woolley said. “It would be different if we banned all tobacco ads across the country in all mediums.”
“(The City Council) has a tendency to make a law about everything we don’t like,” she said. “We’re not supposed to legislate behavior.”
The Mayor said it would affect the smaller weekly papers more than the major metros that don’t typically run tobacco ads.
“I don’t know if anyone will give them up,” she said. “It would probably be difficult for a paper like the Weekly or the Bay Guardian to give up a lot of revenue.”