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IPA voices concern on Labour’s public health strategy

The IPA has today issued a response to Labour’s new public health strategy, published yesterday (15 January), that covers a range of topics, including alcohol, tobacco, food and exercise, and contains some sensible proposals on public health, not least that people should exercise more. Not much of the paper is devoted to advertising, but the paragraphs that are will cause the industry some concern about Labour’s intended approach.


The paper explains that Labour will be “committed to basing our actions on the evidence and consulting fully with all stakeholders”. Yet it also says that if it is unable to achieve its aims by consulting with key stakeholders such as the ASA and CAP, Labour will regulate - including introducing a TV watershed for HFSS ads.

Evidence already shows that advertising is not a significant factor in obesity, although it has a role to play, alongside industry, parents, Government, health professionals and others. The Buckingham Review, commissioned by Labour itself in 2009, said that other factors – such as the availability and price of food, the influence of parents, exercise and the lack of access to outdoor play areas – play a greater role in the causes of obesity than advertising.

The Advertising Codes (CAP and BCAP) – which are mandatory - include content rules which apply to all forms of advertising – TV and non-broadcast - including online, advergames and social media, and the BCAP Code prohibits the advertising of HFSS products around children’s TV programmes and around those of “particular appeal” to children. The codes are proportionate, balancing the protection of children and other vulnerable members of society, with the right of businesses to promote their goods and services.

Richard Lindsay, IPA Director of Legal & Public Affairs said: “The proposals on advertising contained in the paper are unhelpful. Labour claim commitment to evidence and consultation, but the paper suggests that they are prepared to force through regulation if they are unhappy with the results. A firmer commitment to a more considered approach, based on evidence and on discussion with those involved in the self-regulatory system, would have been positive. Labour’s own commissioned report by Professor David Buckingham in 2009 found that advertising is not the cause of obesity. It is one part of a complex issue. And the advertising codes contain a sensible, proportionate set of rules which keep the advertising of HFSS foods in check. The ASA has shown that it will take action against those advertisers that seek to flout those rules. Labour’s wish to avoid “finger-wagging” and accusations of a “nanny-state” approach to protecting the nation’s health is understandable. Proposing unnecessary restrictions on advertising is not.”

Further information about the strategy. 

Last updated 16/01/2015

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