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Public Health: Media Advertising

Volume 819: debated on Monday 28 February 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to assess (1) the impact on public health of advertising in the media, and (2) whether the tax system regarding such advertisements could be restructured to improve both physical and mental health outcomes.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government do not have plans for a comprehensive assessment of the impact of advertising on public health but are committed to assessing its impact in a proportionate way and in response to emerging evidence. For example, we will use a post-implementation review to assess the impact of forthcoming restrictions to the advertising of less healthy food and drink products on television and online. There are no current plans to review the tax treatment of advertising but the Government keep all taxes under review.

I am disappointed that the Government are not extending the review of the effects of advertising on health over a wider front; I hope that might be reconsidered. It is important that we take from the Chancellor’s move to a variable taxation on alcohol—in which the highest taxes are placed on those drinks with the highest element of alcohol and incentives are offered for lower taxes on those with lower alcohol—that advertising will be looked at in a similar way, particularly where advertising damages people, such as in the case of gambling and so on. Why do such advertisers not pay higher rates of tax than the present standard rate, which applies to all advertising? This is a way in which revenue could be increased and we could also seek to get behavioural change, which would be positive for the country.

On gambling specifically, as the noble Lord will know, we are reviewing the Gambling Act and looking specifically at advertising issues as part of that. More broadly, we recognise that advertising can have an impact on public health, which is why we continue to keep that impact on all aspects of public health under review and will assess any emerging evidence in a proportionate and measured way. That is why, for instance, we are responding to evidence that children’s exposure to less healthy food-and-drink product advertising can affect what and when they eat. DCMS will of course continue to work with other departments, and the regulators as necessary, to keep the impacts of advertising on public health under review.

My Lords, just 2.5% of all food and soft-drink advertising in the UK is spent on fruit and vegetables. Despite Change4Life and the 5 A Day campaign, obesity rates have risen sharply. Yet the relatively simple and extremely cost-effective act of banning advertising of HFSS food on the London Underground has, according to a report published just 10 days ago by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, on 17 February, led to households buying 1,000 calories less a week of HFSS food—6.7% less than would have happened. Will the Government look at expanding schemes of this type and banning adverts for HFSS food? Will they also agree not to water down the excellent proposals in the forthcoming Bill to ban HFSS adverts in prime time on children’s TV?

The Health and Care Bill introduces new UK-wide restrictions for the advertising of less healthy food and drink products, which are due to come into force from 1 January 2023. The noble Baroness referred to the recently published evaluation of the advertising restrictions introduced by Transport for London, which we note were limited to outdoor advertising. We intend to look at and analyse that evaluation in more detail.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of Peers for Gambling Reform. The Minister made reference to gambling just a few seconds ago and will be aware that the gambling industry spends in excess of £1.5 billion a year on advertising and associated marketing. Does he believe that that improves or damages public health?

As the noble Lord will know, I cannot pre-empt our review of the Gambling Act, which is looking at all these issues and taking evidence from many, including Peers for Gambling Reform. It is a thorough and evidence-led look at gambling regulation; advertising is an important part of that, and we will set out our response in a White Paper in due course.

My Lords, the Government remain committed to banning junk-food advertising as part of their drive to introduce more and more regulation. Can my noble friend assure me that he will have a discussion with his colleagues in the health department about the timing of implementing this ban, which is coming in at breakneck speed? It will be very damaging to the public service broadcasters, which of course his department supports very vigorously.

Yes, I will speak to my colleagues in the Department for Health and Social Care, not least as the Bill is still before your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, there is good evidence that advertising that presents idealised and unrealistic bodies can drive negative body image and trigger or exacerbate mental health conditions, including eating disorders. Will the Government support the call for advertisers to be required to make it clear where images are digitally altered for commercial purposes?

My Lords, we are aware of evidence which demonstrates a link between poor body and poor mental health, which can cause people anxiety, depression and many other harms. It is not currently the Government’s intention to legislate on body image in advertising. We want to make sure that any government intervention makes a real and positive difference. We intend to consult on this issue and the harms created by it as part of the online advertising programme, which will allow us further to develop our evidence base on this issue.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, wrote to Peers saying that the Government intend to consider platform liability for ad content as part of the online advertising programme, which the Minister has just mentioned, but the consultations will not start until spring. HFSS advertising on television has been under consultation since 2017. Why are the Government only now discussing platform responsibility for this ad content? Surely, they are just kicking this important issue into the long grass.

My Lords, the advertising on television is a matter in the Bill before your Lordships’ House, which introduces a 9 pm watershed for advertising of less healthy food and drink products on TV and on-demand programme services which are under the jurisdiction of the UK and regulated by Ofcom. On advertising in other media, the Government intend to review how online advertising is regulated through the online advertising programme, as I say, but they are happening in different timeframes.

My Lords, while many adverts for tobacco products are banned in the UK and the EU, such restrictions do not apply in the same way to products containing nicotine. Can the Minister comment on why the McLaren Formula 1 team cars are able to carry the logo of the British American Tobacco Velo product range at the British Grand Prix when similar products cannot be promoted in other host countries, including Austria and France? Does the Minister feel that this is appropriate?

The advertising and promotion of tobacco products was banned through the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002. As the noble Baroness rightly alludes to, products and technology have moved on a lot in the intervening 20 years. An independent review into tobacco control, led by Javed Khan, is currently under way. This will help us ensure that future policies will be effective in meeting the Government’s smoke-free ambition.