The Counsellor's Corner


Should businesses in the City of Los Angeles no longer be permitted to publicly display advertising for alcoholic beverages?  That will be the case as of October 23rd of this year as there is now a law set to take effect that is extremely restrictive including everything from signs in a shop window to billboards.  This law would restrict alcohol advertising similar to the manner in which cigarette advertising was drastically restricted a number of years ago.

On Monday, August 23rd, a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed against the City of Los Angeles by a coalition of businesses asking that this law be overturned as it unconstitutionally restricts free speech.  The position of the businesses is that this would constitute censorship and that the City of Los Angeles would be better off enforcing laws that are already on the books, such as those which prohibit the sale of alcohol to minors.

The position of the City is that this is what is known as “Commercial Speech” and it is afforded less protection than speech of individuals, and that it is permissible for cities to regulate advertising for alcohol in this way under their inherent power to enforce laws against under-aged drinking.  The City claims that there is a direct link between alcohol advertising and the illegal consumption of alcohol by minors.

While I don’t care for cigarette smoke, I am in favor of free choice and allowing people to smoke if that is what they wish, as long as I do not have to be exposed to the smoke.  Regarding alcohol, I do not support this new law as I do not think it is reasonable.  There are many people whose business depends upon the selling of alcohol.  Consumption of alcohol has been legal in all 50 states ever since we did away with prohibition.

I really can’t stand it when people attempt to dictate morality and attempt to legislate what they think we should or should not do.  I believe the City is hiding behind their claim that this will help prevent children from drinking alcohol, but that is a complete fraud and is a way for the City to attempt to curtail the consumption of alcohol for all people.

If that is the true goal, educational programs would be appropriate, not legislation.  There is very little speech that I would ban, but even taking this momentarily out of the free-speech context, why does the City want to keep lawful enterprises from advertising their products?  This is not cocaine, and there is a difference between cocaine and alcohol (just ask George W. Bush.)  One is legal and the other is illegal.  All I ask is the ability to live a life in which I can make my own decisions whether they are good ones or bad ones.  Like everyone else, some will be right and some will be wrong, however they will all be mine.  I believe that if you are selling a lawful product, you should be able to advertise that product in a relatively unfettered fashion.

On a brief side note, I want to thank the young woman who rang the doorbell of the law office about a week and a half ago and returned an address book that belonged to my secretary.  It was late, she had found it outside the office building and was nervous.  Once she saw me she indicated she recognized me from this column and was comfortable in giving the address book to me and confident that I would get it to its rightful owner.  Unfortunately, in the haste of the moment I did not get her name or her telephone number.  So, young lady, if you are reading this week’s column, thank you and please call me so that my secretary and I can thank you in person.


Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth.  Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.