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Public Health Rep. 2001 Nov-Dec; 116(6): 558–567.
PMCID: PMC1497388

Collaborative research and action to control the geographic placement of outdoor advertising of alcohol and tobacco products in Chicago.


Community activists in Chicago believed their neighborhoods were being targeted by alcohol and tobacco outdoor advertisers, despite the Outdoor Advertising Association of America's voluntary code of principles, which claims to restrict the placement of ads for age-restricted products and prevent billboard saturation of urban neighborhoods. A research and action plan resulted from a 10-year collaborative partnership among Loyola University Chicago, the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago (ALAMC), and community activists from a predominately African American church, St. Sabina Parish. In 1997 Loyola University and ALAMC researchers conducted a cross-sectional prevalence survey of alcohol and tobacco outdoor advertising. Computer mapping was used to locate all 4,247 licensed billboards in Chicago that were within 500- and 1,000-foot radiuses of schools, parks, and playlots. A 50% sample of billboards was visually surveyed and coded for advertising content. The percentage of alcohol and tobacco billboards within the 500- and 1,000-foot zones ranged from 0% to 54%. African American and Hispanic neighborhoods were disproportionately targeted for outdoor advertising of alcohol and tobacco. Data were used to convince the Chicago City Council to pass one of the nation's toughest anti-alcohol and tobacco billboard ordinances, based on zoning rather than advertising content. The ordinance was challenged in court by advertisers. Recent Supreme Court rulings made enactment of local billboard ordinances problematic. Nevertheless, the research, which resulted in specific legislative action, demonstrated the importance of linkages among academic, practice, and grassroots community groups in working together to diminish one of the social causes of health disparities.

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