The Public Health Alliance, a radical pressure group that defends and promotes public health, has denounced the joint government and business scheme as a naive attempt to privatise health promotion.
The initiative, organised by the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi and the Department of Health, will rely on companies providing the majority of funding for advertising campaigns. The Department of Health will provide pounds 1 for every pounds 2 that companies spend on promoting accepted health campaigns, and in return it is expected that companies will be able to use the department's logo in their advertising.
Marjorie Thompson, director of Cause Connection, Saatchi & Saatchi's healthcare unit, said the use of logos would not be similar to a royal warrant - the royal crest seen on various products. Nor would it mean the Government endorsing any product or company over another.
However, the chairman of the Public Health Alliance, Dr David Player, said: "The Government is either stupid or naive. This isn't the way businesses work. Why is Saatchi & Saatchi doing this - for the good of the people? It's a form of getting endorsement for their products and it's worth millions. These guys are in it for the money.
"It is the privatisation of health promotion. It's the same as the private funding initiative for hospitals - it's a huge privatisation of what was previously public."
A Department of Health spokesman said that discussions about the proposed scheme were still under way, and that no final decisions had been taken on how to proceed. He added: "There is no reason to believe that if we were to give our backing to it that there would be any exclusivity given to any one product."
Gerry Hannon, the director of Swindon Health Promotion Agency, is concerned that companies with a dubious ethical background could get involved with funding health campaigns. He said: "There are some companies that are related to tobacco - cash from that end would seem at odds with public health. There are also foreign policy ethical issues. It's good to get the cash, but if it's coming from a company who use workers in a foreign company and pay them only 3p per hour then you might not want to be taking money from them."
The Government already has a pounds 48m health advertising budget, but Ms Thompson said the aim of the scheme is to provide funding for high-profile campaigns on issues that don't usually get a high level of publicity, such as breast cancer, testicular cancer and heart disease.
"The Department has agreed, in principle, areas where they think a partnership with a company could help in promoting health," she said.
"In the Sixties and Seventies, advertising appealed to the rational, while in the Eighties it was emotional," she said. "Now, in the Nineties, consumers are looking for an ethical product. We're suggesting to companies ... that they can use the cause or link-up to give a new dimension to their brand and, at the same time, help a good cause.We think we can lend our client's brand a 'soul' by providing them with a good cause. Research shows that, given a level playing field, people will tend to go for a brand that has an association with a good cause."
Dr Player is not impressed by this linking of a company with a cause. He said: "These companies want the respectability of the Department of Health, and are willing to pay millions for that. If they can say the Government supports their campaign on whatever, then it gives them the respectability they want and could never have bought before."Reuse content