EDITORIAL: Excess is harmful, not the advertising

Please oh please protect us from earnest MPs, meddling Brussels busybodies and health fascists who believe us incapable of protecting ourselves and regard it as their mission to do it for us. Consider last week's evidence of their combined malevolence.

At Westminster a bid to ban commercials during TV programmes for small children is rightly given short shrift by the Government. The European Commission in Brussels mooted the prospect of extending controls on tobacco promotion to cover such everyday items as umbrellas and ashtrays. In the US, the fear of a flood of writs against them is said to be coercing fast food manufacturers to put tobacco-style health warnings on their products - and even to chip in for an ad campaign to promote the initiative.

Put all these developments together and they add up to the kind of nannying that George Orwell's Big Brother would have approved of. Worse, they insult the intelligence of those they seek to cosset. Let's take the issue of children and advertising first. Those who desire a ban usually present a simplistic and emotional rationale. Child sees advertised product and wants it. Some parents can afford to indulge their children, others can't. Ergo such advertising is wrong because it's divisive. But this argument fails to distinguish between proper protection and over-protection.

Being denied something we see advertised on TV is part of the growing-up process that teaches us we can't always have what we want.

Similarly over-the-top attitudes prevail within the European Union. Not content with a tobacco ad ban, Brussels legislators now seem intent on banishing brand names from the earth and even trapping products such as pipes, lighters and matches within the legislation. While public support for outlawing cigarette advertising is overwhelming, it's hard to see how preventing ads for Swan Vestas will discourage a teenage girl from smoking.

As for fast food, we all know that eating too much of it is bad for us and have no need of a health warning on a can of Coke or a McDonald's hamburger wrapper to act as a perpetual reminder. Moreover, to believe that junk food junkies will pay heed of an ad campaign to persuade them to change their ways is naive in the extreme.

Other than tobacco, no product, be it a child's snack, a fizzy drink or crisps, is harmful unless used to excess. It's the abuse of brands, not the advertising of them, that is the problem. Nobody has yet advocated stopping the advertising of cars because people sometimes get killed while driving them. But if last week's events are any guide, it's only a matter of time.

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