RACGP backs proposed crackdown on harmful marketing

Matt Woodley

5/06/2023 3:23:48 PM

The college is supporting a push from crossbench MPs for stronger regulation on advertising for gambling, junk food, alcohol, and fossil fuels.

Drinking alcohol & eating junk food in front of TV
Alcohol and junk food advertisements are common in Australia.

The RACGP has backed calls for new restrictions on the marketing of harmful products, particularly to children.
Led by a group of independent crossbench MPs, including former GP Dr Sophie Scamps, the campaign is calling on the Federal Government to close what it has described as ‘loopholes that allow industry to saturate broadcast and social media with harmful product marketing’.
In making their push, the crossbenchers cited the negative impact gambling, junk food, alcohol and fossil fuels have on chronic disease and the subsequent increased burden they place on Australia’s healthcare system.
‘One in four children in Australia are already on the path to chronic disease because they are overweight or obese,’ Dr Scamps said.
‘If we continue standing by while children are being deluged by junk food advertising every time they go on social media or watch TV, then we are failing them.
‘The current regulations are not strong enough and we know self-regulation does not work. It’s time Australia joined the 40 other countries around the world that have or are planning to implement regulations to protect children from pervasive junk food marketing.’
Polling conducted by the Australia Institute last year suggests there is widespread community support for advertising restrictions on harmful products. Of the more than 1000 respondents to their survey:

  • 71% agree that gambling ads on TV should be banned
  • 66% agree that junk food ads during children’s viewing hours should be banned
  • 51% agree that alcohol ads on TV should be banned, more than twice as many as disagree (19%)
  • 41% agree that ads promoting fossil fuels should be banned, compared to 24% who disagree. 
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins has also thrown her support behind tighter advertising regulations, saying the health of Australians ‘must come first’.
‘No one, including our children, can turn on a TV or scroll a social media feed without being inundated with advertisements for sports gambling, booze, junk food, and more,’ she said.
‘It’s pervasive and high time that these companies were reigned in. GPs and other healthcare workers are the ones on the other side helping patients suffering from the effects of these products, including tobacco-related illness and obesity just to name a few.

‘We are doing the best we can, but GPs are doing so with one hand tied behind our back given what we are up against.’
Dr Higgins said GPs need the Government help by restricting advertising that promotes unhealthy and destructive behaviours which can impact long-term health and wellbeing.

‘These companies are tailoring their marketing to target children on TV and social media,’ she said.
‘So while they reap massive profits our health system bears the brunt of managing the consequences.’
According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, young people are exposed to more than 40,000 alcohol advertisements each year on social media, while the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) estimates that 93% of 16–17-year-olds have seen alcohol marketing on Facebook.
Meanwhile, recent Cancer Council research found nearly $130 million was spent advertising sugary drinks in 2016–18 alone – a total approximately five times higher than combined government investment ($26.5 million) in public health campaigns over the same period promoting healthy eating, physical activity and obesity prevention.
In addition to alcohol and junk food marketing, MPs Zoe Daniel and Andrew Wilkie have said gambling advertising needs to be reined in, while fossil fuel companies who seek to ‘greenwash’ are also in the crossbench group’s sights.
‘Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing tactic that has become a powerful weapon in the fossil fuel industry’s arsenal, hindering climate action while millions pay the price,’ independent MP Zali Steggell said.
‘There are over eight million deaths per year associated with the effects of burning fossil fuels on top of the catastrophic risks climate change poses globally.
‘Straight from the tobacco, gambling and alcohol industries handbook, fossil fuel companies seek social licence by greenwashing their activities through advertising and sponsorship.’
For Dr Higgins, it all comes down to political will.

‘I appreciate this will not be easy for the Government – these are powerful and ruthless industries who will launch anti-government campaigns if met with any sort of marketing clampdown,’ she said.
‘However, I urge the Government to act in the best interests of public health and act decisively to put communities first.

‘We have stamped out tobacco marketing, so how can we justify ads in prime-time TV slots, including sports games, promoting alcohol and gambling? In the year 2023, it just makes no sense, and it’s time for action.’
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