Advertisers face crackdown over `grazing' children

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Tougher regulations to stop advertisers encouraging children to eat sweets instead of proper meals, inciting motorists to drink and drive, or making exaggerated claims about environmental friendliness were given a lukewarm welcome by food, health and environmental pressure groups yesterday.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which enforces standards in all UK advertisements except those on television or in the cinema, has updated its code of advertising and sales promotion practice for the first time in seven years.

The new code comes into force on 1 February and will be policed by the Advertising Standards Authority, which has the power to ask for campaigns to be stopped and advertisements to be changed.

The key new provisions are that advertisers should not say products are environmentally friendly unless they can provide convincing supporting evidence, and that advertisers should not encourage children to graze on snacks or sweets instead of eating proper meals.

Yesterday Adam Woolf, from the pressure group Greenpeace, described the code governing environmentally friendly products as "long overdue". Businesses had wrapped themselves up in a "load of greenwashery", telling people their products were environmentally sound when that was not necessarily the case.

Often companies had arrived at their own definitions of what was environmentally sound, so some sort of objective standard was to be welcomed. "People should know what they are getting," Mr Woolf said.

The measures governing food and sweet advertising did not go nearly far enough, according to Jack Tinkler, treasurer of the National Food Alliance - an umbrella organisation representing 60 voluntary organisations concerned with food and health issues. "They have barely touched the surface. It is the most minimal regulation possible you can conceive of in 1995. It's grossly inadequate."

He said food was the most advertised product in Britain and more than half such advertisements were for sweet foods. Children were particularly vulnerable to manipulation by the advertising industry. Cartoon figures and celebrities were used to win theirallegiance to particular products.

The minimal code being introduced to govern food advertising in print had been in operation for 10 years in television commercials. CAP, he said, had agreed to set up a working group to consider introducing more detailed regulations.

CAP said the code changes had been introduced to reflect changes in attitudes in society and the market place that had taken place in recent years. It was concerned that advertisements should be truthful and socially responsible.

Besides children's eating habits, there has also been increasing concern about advertisements for slimming products, cars and beauty treatments.

The use of sexual and racial stereotyping is also being targeted - days after a BSkyB poster for the television premiere of the film Indecent Proposal was branded tasteless and offensive by the ASA.

The poster had attracted 167 complaints, more than any other advertisement last year.

THE TIGHTER CURBS ON ADVERTISING The changes to the advertising guidelines include: DECENCY - Advertisements must not contain anything likely to cause widespread serious offence - particularly when using racial, religious or sexual images.

ALCOHOL - No medium should be used to advertise alcohol if one in four of its audience is under age. Drink-driving must not be encouraged.

CHILDREN - Parental permission should be obtained before children are committed to costly purchases. Children must not be encouraged to eat near bedtime, graze or replace main meals with snacks.

MOTORING - Speed or acceleration claims must not be the predominant message of the advertisement. Motorists should not be encouraged to break speed limits.

ENVIRONMENTAL CLAIMS - Terms like "environmentally friendly" should not be used without qualification or convincing evidence.

HEALTH AND BEAUTY - Advertisers should not offer therapies or medicines as an alternative to essential treatment for serious ailments. Advertisements should not use celebrities to endorse medicines.

SLIMMING - Advertisements should not appeal to anyone under 18. They should not suggest that it is good to be underweight. Diet plans must be nutritionally well balanced.

SALES PROMOTIONS - Complex entry rules should be avoided.

DISTANCE SELLING - Delivery period for mail order goods extended from 28 to 30 days.