PPA Public Affairs Senior Executive Sebastian Cuttill reviews the latest government legislation
The Government has for some time planned to ban online paid-for advertising for products high in fat, sugar, and salt (HFSS). The implementation of the ban has already been delayed until January 2024; this was due to delay in the Health and Care Bill receiving Royal Assent, as well as a growing recognition that the industry needs more time to prepare. Secondary Legislation (laws created by Government under powers given to them by an Act of Parliament, in this case the Health and Care Bill) and detailed guidance need to be created before the restrictions come into force.
What would online HFSS restrictions mean in practice?
HFSS food and drink are products that are high in saturated fat, salt or sugar, as defined by the Department of Health’s Nutrient Profiling Model. This restrictions would apply to all paid-for advertising online (apart from digital-only audio) including influencer marketing, newsletter advertising, and advertorials. There are some exemptions from the restrictions, including brand advertising with no HFSS products, B2B ads, and non-paid for organic content.
It has been reported that the new Prime Minister Liz Truss and Health Secretary Thérèse Coffey are reviewing the restrictions as part of a wider effort by the new government to cut red tape and reduce restrictions on businesses. The Advertising Association, of which PPA is a member, has repeatedly highlighted the lack of evidence that the plans would have a significant impact on childhood obesity, as well as making concerns known about the impact on businesses.
PPA and allied associations are calling on government to make a swift decision on implementation to give businesses certainty, as well as calling for the plans to be scrapped. It is unclear how the plans could be scrapped, as the Health and Care Bill has already been passed. One potential option is to extend the implementation date until the end of the current parliament (until after the next election) meaning that the necessary Secondary Legislation and guidance will not be created.
At present, it would be sensible for businesses involved in advertising HFSS products online to assume that the online restrictions will be implemented as planned in January 2024. However, businesses should also begin planning for the contingency that the restrictions are scrapped.