Speaking at the annual conference of advertising body ISBA, secretary of state for culture, media and sport Tessa Jowell said an outright advertising ban was “not necessarily the silver bullet it is imagined to be”.
It was instead up to the industry to prove that “advertising need not be an adversary of those who want a healthier Britain”.
This did not mean “tombstone warnings on crisp packets”, she added, but “positive messages that give the context in entertaining, memorable ways… everything in moderation - that’s the message”.
Her comments came as food and farming alliance Sustain published a report backed by more than 100 national organisations insisting that the food industry was not capable of regulating itself.
A ban on commercial activities promoting foods high in salt, fat or sugar to children was the only way to tackle rising obesity, said project officer Charlie Powell. “Huge profits are at stake, so we don’t believe that [the food industry] will voluntarily stop promoting junk foods to kids.”
However, Cadbury Schweppes chairman John Sunderland urged the government “not to fall into the trap of making simplistic assumptions which overestimate the persuasive power of advertising and ignore the importance of personal accountability”.
Parents should be given more credit, he insisted. “Do the parents and children who see Gary Lineker promoting Walkers Crisps really think he or PepsiCo are suborning their free will, undermining their role as gatekeepers to their children’s health and well-being?
“Yet today there are those who feel that we need the nanny state to protect 21st century consumers from themselves when they think about purchasing something as simple as a potato crisp or a bar of chocolate. Advertising is a force for good in society. Let’s damn well stand up and say so.”
His comments came as health secretary John Reid launched a national consultation on how to improve the nation’s health (The Grocer, February 7, p6).
Choosing Health, which was unveiled at an Asda café in Leyton, London, will form the basis of a three-month nationwide consultation exercise. It asks how the country might tackle health problems like obesity, smoking and sexually transmitted infections.
Reid said: “It’s not setting out government policy, it’s asking questions to stimulate debate.”