Background: Historically, the alcohol and tobacco industries have been the biggest users of outdoor advertising. However, the 1999 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) outlawed tobacco billboards and transit furniture (e.g., bus, bench) ads, and the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) has pledged to voluntarily eliminate ads for alcohol and tobacco within 500 feet of schools, playgrounds, and churches.
Methods: Outdoor advertisements were observed (2004-2005) in a sample of urban census tracts (106 in pre-Katrina southern Louisiana and 114 in Los Angeles County) to evaluate tobacco and alcohol advertisers' compliance with the MSA and the OAAA Code of Industry Principles. Data were analyzed in 2007-2008.
Results: More than one in four tobacco ads in Louisiana failed to comply with the MSA. In Los Angeles, 37% of alcohol ads and 25% of tobacco ads were located within 500 feet of a school, playground, or church; in Louisiana, roughly one in five ads promoting alcohol or tobacco fell within this distance. In Los Angeles, low-income status and the presence of a freeway in the tract were associated with 40% more alcohol and tobacco billboards near children. In Louisiana, each additional major roadway-mile was associated with 4% more tobacco ads-in violation of MSA-and 7% more small ads near schools, playgrounds, and churches; city jurisdiction accounted for 55% of MSA violations and more than 70% of the violations of OAAA guidelines.
Conclusions: Cities must be empowered to deal locally with violations of the MSA. Legislation may be needed to force advertisers to honor their pledge to protect children from alcohol and tobacco ads.