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Teen-agers claim billboard ads don't tempt them


Beneath a billboard touting Kool cigarettes at Belvedere Avenue and Reisterstown Road, LaMont Royster rode his bicycle in a series of figure eights yesterday, never glancing at the advertisement.

If the billboard -- with the word Kool spelled in huge letters -- served as a negative image for 10-year-old LaMont and other youths, LaMont didn't let on.

"I've seen it but never paid any attention to it," said LaMont, who lives in the nearby Dolfield community. "I don't smoke and don't plan on it. That sign can't make me smoke cigarettes."

On Thursday, a federal appeals court upheld the city's ban on tobacco and alcohol billboards. The ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gives impetus to the Clinton administration's push to curb ads that encourage smoking.

A coalition of Baltimore community groups and elected officials had pushed for a ban on billboards that promote tobacco and alcohol products, saying the advertisements target youths and those with low income. A majority of the billboards are in the city's predominantly black neighborhoods, especially in the west and northwestern communities. Some alcohol ads have popular rap artists as spokesmen.

Eric Rubin, an attorney for Penn Advertising, said yesterday that the ruling was merely one in a series of court rulings regarding the billboards and that the advertisements will remain until a final ruling.

"The case isn't over. I wouldn't expect anything -- at least in the short term, anyway," Mr. Rubin said.

But the rulings have given some hope to parents whose children face frequent exposure to the advertisements.

Mary Walker, who lives in the Langston Hughes community of northwest Baltimore, said she tries to shield her two children -- a 5-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy -- from seeing the billboards.

"It's embarrassing when they ask about beer and cigarettes. The pictures in the ads make everything seem as though everyone is happy and it's because they're smoking cigarettes," Ms. Walker said.

Chandra Evans, who lives on East Preston Street in the Middle East community, said that even if the billboards were removed, smaller signs and placards touting tobacco and alcohol are plastered on walls throughout her neighborhood.

"You just can't turn around Joe Cool or Newport ads," she said. "Eventually kids are going to ask just what is Joe Cool."

However, many youths said yesterday that the billboards have little effect on them. Wayne Bunglo, 13, of East Baltimore said he "sees but doesn't see" the ads all the time.

"I see the Colt 45 billboards all of the time, but that doesn't mean I want some beer," he said. "I see billboards for Coca Cola, too, but that doesn't mean I want to drink Coke. I like Sprite."

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