HFSS ad ban: Where are we now & what's next?

Posted on Thursday 04 November 2021 | James Davies - Public Policy Manager, IAB UK

Read an update on our work regarding the HFSS online ad ban from our Public Policy Manager, James Davies

Rewind to June and there was one big story occupying news headlines (in digital ad circles at least) - the Government’s outright ban of HFSS online ads. As our CEO Jon Mew wrote for Ad Week at the time, the ban “represents a completely missed opportunity to address the root causes of childhood obesity” and refusal of policy makers to explore smarter, digital-first solutions. 

But after so much noise around the HFSS ad ban earlier in the year, where are we now? In the months since the ban was announced, we have been continuing to lobby ministers and work with our industry colleagues at ISBA, the IPA and the FDF to challenge the ban and make the case for an industry-led solution. 

Our point is simple. By working with the industry, the Government can achieve what it wants to - further limiting children’s already limited exposure to HFSS ads online - without inflicting unnecessary damage on the advertising, media and hospitality industries. We have put forward an industry-led proposal that would achieve this using proven, existing technology, and we remain committed to building support for it among policymakers. 

While we don’t expect a wholesale reversal on the ban from the Government, we are working to influence and limit the scope of it. Last week, as the Health and Care Bill Committee reached the HFSS provisions, we saw some of the effects of our lobbying. 

Significantly, Labour’s Health Minister Alex Norris raised our main points with ministers, saying that the industry has a better, “more elegant”  alternative to a ban. As the Government claims to be a leader in technological innovation, Norris said it “ought to listen” to industry experts and asked why the Government has dismissed the industry’s “more nuanced” alternative in favour of a disproportionate ban. 

While the Government minister did not respond to Norris’ questions, the fact that they have now been asked on the record will allow us to continue making the point and pushing for an answer in later stages of the Bill.

Additionally, the Government has accepted our calls for a public consultation to be required ahead of any future changes to the Nutrient Profiling Model, with the Government saying it will table its own amendment to make the change. The minister also rejected calls for alcohol advertising to be included in the HFSS ban. 

It’s worth noting that ministers’ justification for keeping alcohol out of scope of the ban points to the existing CAP Code restrictions - somewhat undermining the Government’s claimed lack of faith in the CAP Code restrictions regarding HFSS products.

While these are all positive developments that show we are gaining traction with ministers, there is still a big challenge ahead. So what happens next? The Health and Care Bill will soon enter its Report stage, which includes a debate in the House of Commons. This is scheduled for Monday 22 - Tuesday 23 November, when MPs will debate, and potentially vote, on proposed amendments to the Bill.

We can’t say for certain how much time will be dedicated to discussing the HFSS online ad ban as the amendments up for debate are decided by the Speaker and the ban is just one item in a Bill containing provisions on numerous other aspects of health policy. However, we are hoping to have amendments to the Bill tabled and the industry’s alternative to a ban debated in the Commons, before the Bill moves on to being introduced to the House of Lords.

We’ll continue to keep you updated on developments regarding the ban and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.


Written by

James Davies

Public Policy Manager, IAB UK


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