Va officials relax restrictions on happy hour ads

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia officials are changing the way bars and restaurants around the state can advertise happy hour specials.

The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control had prohibited happy hour ads, except inside a restaurant, for fear of encouraging overdrinking.

But The Virginian-Pilot reports (http://bit.ly/1nkoijX ) that now businesses can advertise happy hour in outlets such as radio, newspapers and Facebook.

Restaurants and bars are permitted to advertise the time frame for happy hour, which generally provides discounts on drinks in the late afternoon or early evening. Many also have food specials.

They can use the phrases “happy hour” and “drink specials” but can’t use the word “discounted” or name specific drinks or list most prices.

ABC officials say the department made changes after it reviewed its rules and spoke with business owners. The prohibition on advertising prices was retained so as to not start price wars between retailers.

Virginia will continue to require happy hour to end at 9 p.m., ABC spokeswoman Carol Mawyer said.

The advertising changes stemmed from a review of state regulations launched in 2011. They did not require legislative action, she said, but were approved by former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration, Mawyer said.

The agency will respond to the first violation of the happy hour ad rules with a written warning. But subsequent violations could trigger a fine of up to $2,000 and a seven-day suspension of a business’s liquor license.

According to ABC’s website, about 15 businesses statewide were fined for happy hour violations from July 2012 to June 2013.

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Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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