Child crying over sweets

The food and drink industry is staring at the possibility of a major shake-up of the rules on advertising to children after the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) launched what it said would be a far-ranging review of the self-regulatory system.

CAP, which sets the codes for all non-broadcast adverts in the UK, has announced a public consultation on the introduction of the first dedicated set of new rules governing the advertising to children of food and soft drinks high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS).

The Grocer exclusively revealed in July that the government was considering aligning non-broadcast advertising codes – which define a child as under 12 – with broadcasting regulations – which define children as under 16.

Current CAP rules require that food and soft drink ads must not condone poor nutritional habits or an unhealthy lifestyle in children, and ban promotions, celebrities and licensed characters in food and soft drink ads directed at younger children to try to prevent ‘pester power’.

The rules are independently administered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and apply across all non-broadcast channels including online, outdoor, print media, cinema and direct marketing.

However, with the government planning a Childhood obesity Strategy, The Grocer understands politicians are putting huge pressure on the food and drink industry to do more to limit the marketing of HFSS foods.

CAP said the consultation “against a background of concern about children’s diets” would ask a broad range of stakeholders whether a change of approach was needed, introducing for the first time rules dedicated to the targeting of advertising to children of HFSS foods in the non-broadcast code.

“CAP’s decision to carry out a public consultation responds, in part, to changes in children’s media habits and evolving advertising techniques,” it said in a statement. “It also reflects a growing consensus, shared by public health and industry bodies, about the role of advertising self-regulation in helping to bring about a change in the nature and balance of food advertising targeted at children.“

CAP said it would begin a programme of pre-consultation with key consumer, campaigning, public health and industry organisations to further inform its thinking before launching a full public consultation in early 2016.

With the health lobby campaigning for action against the industry in the war on sugar, self-regulatory marketing regimes that are seen as too soft have been identified by leading sources as a major vulnerability against the critics.

The Department of Health has said it is drawing up a range of options for “advertising to children”.

Ofcom restrictions currently ban TV advertising for HFSS foods during programmes of particular appeal to children of 16 or under up to the watershed. But the health lobby has long called for popular family programmes such as The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, which are not currently included, to also be covered by the ban.