The Government's curbs on junk-food advertising, announced this week, will be wider than expected and extend to posters and press as well as television.
In a long-awaited White Paper, Choosing Health, which was published on Tuesday, the Department of Health called for strict curbs on television commercials for junk food aimed at children before the 9pm watershed and on the use of celebrities and cartoon characters in them. Restrictions would also apply to print and outdoor ads targeting children.
The Government backed away from an immediate ban on junk-food ads after differences among ministers over whether to adopt such an interventionist approach. Instead, it gave the food and ad industries slightly more than two years to bring in a new code and show its voluntary measures were working.
"If, by early 2007, they have failed to produce changes in the nature and balance of food promotion, we will take action through existing powers or new legislation to implement a clearly defined framework for regulating the promotion of food to children," Britain's most comprehensive public health blueprint says.
Although the Advertising Association pledged to work with the Government to tackle Britain's obesity crisis, it reacted angrily to the warning that a ban could be imposed in three years.
Andrew Brown, the AA's director-general, said: "It's a ridiculous thing to say, because everybody knows that advertising is a very small part of the problem. What 'impact changes' are expected to be achieved by 2007? It looks like window dressing but it is also threatening."
He added: "The status quo is not an option. We want to be part of the solution but it is difficult to do so when you are being threatened and products are being demonised."
Brown said a ban on junk- food commercials could have a dramatic effect on the future of children's programmes, taking 22 per cent of the ad revenue out of the food sector. He pointed out that television ad spending on food products had fallen in recent years, while the obesity problem had worsened.
Andrew Lansley, the Tory spokesman on health, dismissed the crackdown on junk-food ads as a "gimmick". He pointed out that Ofcom had said an ad ban during children's programmes would be "ineffective and disproportionate" and that advertising had only a modest effect on children's food consumption.
Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrats' spokesman on health, accused ministers of "hesitation and more consultation". He said: "The Government has dithered and delayed for seven years. To consult on a voluntary code of labelling and ads fails to give consumers the information they need to make healthy choices."
Advertisers, in their official response through ISBA to the White Paper, were critical of "those who focus on restricting advertising as a high-profile way to be seen to be taking action on social issues whilst failing to address the real causes".
However, the IPA was more equivocal in its response. It welcomed the Government's commitment to the funding of a nationwide health campaign.
But, the IPA added its voice to the insistence that the proposed restrictions would not have the desired effect on obesity levels.
Marina Palomba, the IPA's legal director, said: "Bans are not only ineffective but can be counter-productive, damaging consumer choice, information and healthy competition."
- Comment, p23
- Voluntary code on TV ads for junk-food brands before 9pm, with threat
of a ban if advertisers don't comply
- Voluntary labelling scheme on food products with high salt, sugar or
Ads to incorporate nutritional information
- Alcohol industry to promote sensible drinking habits
- Increased advertising spend to deter smoking
- Increased spending on ads to promote sexual health
- New advertising campaign to combat obesity
- Ban on internet advertising and brand sharing to promote tobacco
HOW PRE-WATERSHED BAN WILL AFFECT TV
Although press and outdoor will face restrictions on junk-food advertising, the brunt of the White Paper proposals will be felt by TV companies.
Cadbury's £10 million sponsorship of Coronation Street will be a prominent casualty on ITV, which, because of its size, stands to lose the most revenue from the ban.
However, four dedicated, non-subscription children's TV channels will see a much greater proportion of their revenues collapse. They are: Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Boomerang and Jetix. The table below outlines the pre-watershed losses faced by broadcasters.
The ban will also affect the revenues of ad agencies with junk-food clients.
However, some comfort can be taken by COI roster agencies, which can expect a substantial increase in spend on campaigns to counter smoking, improve sexual health and fight obesity.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
ITV: £143.4 million
Channel 4: £37.7 million
Five: £18.1 million
Sky Media: £18.2 million
ids: £6.9 million
Viacom Brand Solutions (includes Nickelodeon): £1.2 million
Turner Broadcasting (includes Cartoon Network): £3.2 million
Total: £228 million