In recent months, there have been many calls to regulate e-cigs, and potentially to regulate the marketing of all sorts of vaping products, including a call last week by an FCC Commissioner in an op-ed article in USA Today.  As we wrote several months ago, these suggestions have been based in the fear that increased promotion of vaping products have led to an increase in tobacco use among children.  While the FDA has been taking efforts to crack down on flavored vaping products to reduce their appeal to kids, the makers of e-cigs still advertise, including on radio and TV.  And those advertisements bring us frequent questions about whether the FCC has rules about advertising these products.  So far, the FCC has had no real role in regulating these products.  In fact, one wonders if it really has any authority to take action against the advertising of e-cigs without Congressional action.

So far, all the limits on e-cig advertising have been imposed by other agencies – principally, the FDA.  The FDA requires a tag on all vaping ads, stating that these products contain nicotine, which is an addictive substance (see our articles here and here for more details about that requirement).  And these ads should not claim health benefits for vaping.  Given the FDA’s concern about children, any ads should also stay out of programming with a large audience of children.  Could the FCC itself do more?
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E-cig advertising has been one of those areas where broadcasters and other media companies have been looking warily at the potential for regulatory intervention. So far, as we wrote here, the FDA has only required general disclosures that “e-cigs contain nicotine and that nicotine is an addictive chemical” – an obligation that took

Many broadcasters have had the conception that there are FCC rules against liquor advertising,  As we wrote in 2007, the FCC has never directly regulated liquor ads.  Many years ago, the FCC did ask broadcasters seeking a license if they would rely on the NAB Code of voluntary conduct, which set out limits on broadcaster advertising for alcoholic beverages (essentially forbidding hard liquor ads).  When the Code was declared unconstitutional in the 1980s, there was no longer any FCC review, direct or indirect, of any alcoholic beverage advertising.  But that is not to say that there were no restrictions, as many programming providers and rights holders themselves limited the kinds of ads that could accompany their programs and, as we wrote in our previous post, the alcoholic beverage trade associations had voluntary codes of conduct, which the FTC looks to in determining whether advertising is an unfair trade practice.  The rightsholder restrictions were demonstrated this past week, when the University of Wisconsin reportedly banned beer advertising on broadcast coverage of its school’s football games.  Private contracts from program suppliers and rights holders, including sports programming from schools and colleges, often include restrictions against certain types of advertising which, if breached, can carry contractual penalties including the potential for the cancellation of a station’s authority to continue to carry the programming.  Especially where such rights were the subject of competitive bargaining, broadcasters want to insure that they do not violate these restrictions and put their valuable programming rights at risk.

Some of the broadest restrictions on advertising accompany sports programs.  On Friday, there was a story in Inside Radio (subscription required) about the NCAA’s requirements for broadcast advertising.  With college football season up us, we thought that we’d look at some of those advertising restrictions.  Those restrictions can be found on the NCAA website, here.  The NCAA has a list of specific products that are permitted to be advertised, with guidelines on how those presentations should be made when the product is pitched.  In addition, the list includes certain products that should not be advertised on NCAA games.  For instance, while beer advertising is permitted, the NCAA says that such ads should not take up more than 60 seconds of commercial time per hour (one 60 second ad or two 30 second ads).  The ads should feature no "gratuitous and overly suggestive sexual innuendo, no displays of disorderly, reckless or destructive behavior."  The ads also should include a "drink responsibly" message.  Hard liquor, on the other hand, cannot be advertised in NCAA programs.  Similarly, there are prohibitions on gambling ads of any kind (including ads for casinos or race tracks); firearms; adult entertainment locations including pool halls; adult movies and video games (with NC-17 ratings); ads promoting any products containing NCAA banned substances (including ginseng); and ads for controversial and political issues.  


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The New York Times recently published an article about NBC’s owned and operated station in New York City acceptance of advertising for liquor.  While ads for beer and wine have been a staple on broadcast stations (though see our discussion of the limits on that advertising, here), ads for other alcoholic beverages ads have been less frequent.  Many broadcasters have for years believed that such ads were prohibited by the FCC or some other government agency.  In fact, alcohol ads have not been prohibited by law, but instead by voluntary actions of trade associations representing broadcasters and the alcoholic beverage industry .

Until the early 1980s, the National Association of Broadcasters had a voluntary code of conduct for broadcasters, suggesting good standards and practices for broadcasters: limiting some broadcast content while encouraging broadcasters to air other programming perceived to be in the public interest.  Among the conduct that the Code prohibited was the advertising of hard liquor. While the NAB Code was not mandatory for broadcasters, in filing many routine applications for new stations and for the acquisition of existing stations, the FCC in the past had requirements that the potential broadcasters explain how their programming would serve the public interest.  Most applicants would shorthand their compliance plans by simply promising to abide by the NAB code, in effect binding themselves to the code through those representations made to the FCC.  The Code was in place until the early 1980s, when the Department of Justice became concerned that code provisions suggesting maximum commercial loads and similar matters functioned as a restraint of trade in violation of the antitrust laws, and the NAB Code was abandoned.


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