Deadline set for curb on unhealthy food marketing, tobacco ads

Following an announcement in 2012 on its intentions to restrict advertising of unhealthy food to children, local authorities have firmed up their intentions with a deadline.

As part of a speech for the nation’s Health Budget Initiatives 2014, parliamentary secretary for health, Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, said official guidelines to curb unhealthy food marketing to children would take effect by January 2015. This will restrict the advertising of food and beverages high in fat, sugar and salt to children.

It is still working with “stakeholders from the media, advertising, retail and food industries” as well as the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) to draft guidelines for this. This was first announced in 2012, and authorities also conducted an online public consultation exercise that year. (Read: No more fast-food marketing for children?)

This will be incorporated into the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice. When reached by Marketing, an ASAS spokesperson said more details would be released soon.

Also, to protect youth, a ban on shops from displaying cigarettes will be put in place by the end of 2015, added Ibrahim. This will be enforced through an amendment of the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act.

“When combined with other tobacco control efforts, the POS display ban will protect youths from tobacco marketing,” Ibrahim said.

He said through public consultation, the public was found to be supportive of the move. However, tobacco retailers have expressed reservations at having to adapt their current displays to comply with the ban.

“MOH (Ministry of Health) is mindful that such refurbishment will incur costs, especially for smaller retailers. We will work with the different types of retailers to address these concerns for the implementation. Retailers will also have a grace period to adjust, and this grace period will begin only after we have amended the law.”

Industry reaction

The move to curb unhealthy food marketing is expected to be a major one, affecting brands as well as media and agency partners. Industry players have told Marketing that setting the guidelines has been a challenge, with authorities having to consider factors such as how to clearly segment TV channels or media platforms that reach children, for example.

As for brands, following the announcement in 2012, 14 fast-food brands publicly declared their commitment to change the way they market (Read: F&B brands clean up their act). Several brands mentioned they had been monitoring similar moves in other markets globally, and had already amended their marketing strategies before the announcement.

With regards to the tobacco display ban, when this was first done in Australia, tobacco companies were in an uproar, with the likes of British American Tobacco and Philip Morris furiously contesting the decision. The latter even took legal action against the Australian government. (Read: Update: Singapore mulls plain packaging law).

However, one senior media agency professional told Marketing these brands will find new ways to market. “Similar to graphics warning, I think it will not be as big of a deal as some worry. We will see tobacco brands rely more on trade marketing and BTL, which are both very mature marketing techniques in various markets in Asia.”