The Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland has published new rules on the advertising of foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS). The new rules will be incorporated into the Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages section of the ASAI Code and take effect from 1 December 2021.

The new rules will restrict marketing communications for HFSS foods and beverages from being directed or targeted at children under the age of 15 through the selection of media or the context in which they appear. The rules are in response to changing media habits among young people, as well as wider concerns in society about public health challenges for this age group. The ASAI says that thresholds for non-broadcast media will reduce the overall exposure to HFSS product marketing communications.

In summary, the new rules state that:

  • No medium can be used to advertise HFSS products if more than 50% of its audience is under 15 years of age;
  • There are also thresholds on the amount of advertising for HFSS products that can be published by each media format. For example, no more than 33% of available outdoor space can carry HFSS product marketing communications.  For cinema, digital and print media, no more than 25% of the available space can carry HFSS product marketing communications;
  • Marketing communications targeted at children for HFSS products cannot include a promotional offer or a competition (although there are exceptions for point of sale displays, packages, wrappers, labels, tickets, timetables and menus). There are also restrictions on the use of licensed characters; and
  • Locations primarily used by children will be prohibited to run any form of marketing communication for HFSS. Examples of such settings include registered crèches, pre-schools, nurseries, family and child clinics, paediatric services, schools, dedicated school transport, playgrounds and youth centres.

There are also restrictions on sponsorship, especially relating to settings used by, or events for, primary school children. The ASAI says that the new rules will complement existing rules that marketing communications should not denigrate a healthy lifestyle, they should not encourage unhealthy eating or drinking habits, and they should not encourage consumption to take advantage of a promotional offer.

The ASAI says that it will take a staged approach to the implementation of the new rules, proactively monitoring this area and, for the first six months after the rules take effect, using complaints for intelligence gathering.

As well as limiting HFSS product advertising, the new rules will alter the nature of how food advertising is seen by children.

The new rules follow the announcement by the UK government last week that it will be introducing restrictions on HFSS advertising from 2023 and illustrate the concerns that advertising of HFSS foods is fuelling health problems in the young.  However, whether such restrictions will have the desired impact remains to be seen.