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Get your eyes on the prize: Tummy tucks but no tobacco

Dale Joerling March 27, 2012

Over the past 17 years, I’ve created hundreds of sweepstakes and contests. Thanks to my clients’ marketing savvy, these promotions have featured all kinds of prizes, including $100,000 college scholarships, new cars, boats, exotic vacations, backstage passes, celebrity meet-and-greets, fashion makeovers, clothes, jewelry, shoes, and simple bragging rights.

It seems at times that virtually anything can be used a sweepstakes or contest prize, including one of my favorites, a facial makeover that included plastic surgery services. But while a sweepstakes could gift you with a skin-tightening facelift, it can’t offer the drugs that ease the pain of going under the knife.

For the most part almost anything can serve as a prize. But several categories of items may be illegal or so closely regulated that the related complications of offering them may prevent their use as prizes.

Obviously, any type of contraband or illegal substance cannot be a prize in a sweepstakes. This includes illegal drugs, prescription medicines, illegal firearms, counterfeit products, stolen goods and certain types of plants and animals.

Other less obvious items that may be illegal if offered as a sweepstakes or contest prize include alcohol and tobacco products. Both are subject to state and federal regulations that directly address giving these items away as part of a sweepstakes, contest or other type of promotion. The Federal Alcohol Administration Act is enforced by the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Trade Bureau. The TTB, as it is called, regulates advertisements and trade practices relating to both alcohol and tobacco products.

The alcohol producers themselves have established beer, wine and alcohol self-advisory groups that create regulations applying to these types of promotions. Similarly, advertisements of tobacco products are regulated by the TTB and the Federal Trade Commission. In addition, most U.S. tobacco companies are parties to the Master Settlement Agreement that resulted from the states’ 1998 lawsuit against the major tobacco companies. The settlement agreement prohibits many types of marketing and advertising of tobacco products.

The lesson here is to make certain that the prizes you offer in your contest or sweepstakes are not prohibited by federal or state law or regulation.

Dale Joerling is the chair of Thompson Coburn’s Advertising, Marketing and Promotion Law group. He is editorial director of the Sweepstakes Law Blog. You can reach Dale at (314) 552-6058 or djoerling@thompsoncoburn.com.