Plans to roll out a total ban on junk food advertising could hamper the hospitality industry’s recovery from the pandemic, a top industry boss has warned.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, described the government’s decision to press on with consultations during lockdown as “tin-eared” and warned any new laws would deal a fresh blow to ailing pubs, restaurants and bars.
“To think about tackling something as important as this, which would have a major operational impact when we come out the other side, at a time when industry is closed… seems odd to say the least,” she said.
Downing Street is preparing tough new restrictions on adverts for products high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS), including a 9pm TV ad watershed and a total ban on online adverts.
The proposed rules cover all forms of online marketing and communications, meaning pubs and restaurants could be limited from including photos of their food and drink on their website, app and in emails to customers.
Speaking at the Advertising Association’s Reset conference this morning, Nicholls warned the ban would have a particularly damaging effect on small businesses.
“For many of our members it’s just too complicated to work through what would be allowed, so effectively you’ve just cut off their online communication and marketing channel,” she said.
The new rules form part of the government’s efforts to tackle obesity — a policy that has gained greater traction with Prime Minister Boris Johnson following his admission to intensive care with Covid-19 last year.
Ministers have argued that exposure to adverts for unhealthy food could shape children’s eating habits in both the long and short term.
But the plans have been met with opposition amid complaints that the ban would include a range of foods — not merely junk food — and would cause significant harm to the advertising sector.
Advertising Association boss Stephen Woodford today repeated his criticisms of the proposed new laws, saying their impact on obesity would be “utterly trivial” compared to the economic damage.
Nicholls described the ban as a “blunt instrument… [that] doesn’t address the root cause of the problem, which is education”.
The Department of Health and Social Care did not respond to a request for comment.