The recalcitrant elements in the food industry who are resisting regulation of junk food advertising are running the line that bans won’t make any difference. The Australian Retailer’s Association Richard Evans wrote in October’s Australian Food News:

Just as we’ve seen with bans on tobacco advertising, banning food and drink advertising will not reduce the number of children consuming “junk” food. It will simply entrench the market share of existing brands by restricting competition in the market place.

This is an almost verbatim tobacco industry defense, run for decades before its bankruptcy eventually wilted under the weight of commonsense and mountains of evidence about the impact of tobacco advertising on kids. The food industry invests heavily in advertising in the children’s TV period because it reaps dividends.

As shown in the graph below, smoking by kids has never been lower. Sporting sponsorship by tobacco ended in 1992, as did the remnants of above-the-line tobacco advertising (print, outdoor). Australia has never run any large scale anti-smoking advertising campaigns directed at children.

The “Every Cigarette is Doing You Damage” campaign commenced in 1997 and is targetted at adult smokers, although seen by most kids. The historic and unprecedented falls in children’s smoking are consistent with a generational effect of the 1992 legislation. When advertising and sponsorship was finally banned in 1992, a brakeless downturn in tobacco commenced in 1997.

The voluntary ban being proposed is significant, despite being toothless. Again, as with the history of tobacco advertising, it cements the food industry into half pregnant status via its admission that junk food advertising does influence kids in the children’s afternoon and weekend morning viewing periods. If the ads influence kids in those times, and the industry admits this is wrong and requires restraint, then the same ads which the same kids see out of the viewing periods and via other media of course also influence kids. The community and legislators are not stupid and will rapidly pick up on such this absurdity.

As happened with tobacco advertising, once the train leaves the station, the series of incremental bans rapidly gathers momentum. The hardliners in the food industry have every reason to be scared now the cat is out of the bag.

Peter Fray

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