City council takes first step in tackling toxic ads

At its Cabinet meeting on 9th March 2021, Bristol City Council adopted a new Advertising and Sponsorship Policy which will apply to adverts under the Council’s direct control, including bus stop screens and billboards on Council land. It includes a ban on ads for junk food, alcohol, gambling, payday loans and adverts in parks.

Local campaign group Adblock Bristol welcomed the new policy as a “good first step” but encouraged the Council to go further.

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Jenny Howard Coles was one of the Adblock Bristol members who asked questions at the Cabinet meeting today. She said,

Advertising is all around us in Bristol – it’s unavoidable. Billboards often push products that damage the environment and our health, and make us feel bad about ourselves because we don’t have the latest shiny thing.

Today we are celebrating a double success, as the Council has committed to keep parks ad-free following our 4,000 signature petition in 2018, and it has agreed to ban certain types of advertising for harmful products including junk food, alcohol and gambling.

This is a good start. But what we really need to see is a wholesale reduction in the amount of corporate outdoor advertising on our streets, and a ban on climate-wrecking products across the whole city.”

Adblock Bristol is calling on the Council to extend the policy to cover all outdoor advertising in the city via the Council’s planning powers, and address the climate impact of adverts.

Reflecting on the fact that this new policy currently only applies to Council-acowned sites, Howard Coles asked the Cabinet,

“Does the council have plans to ensure alignment of advertising policy citywide with other parts of the council’s operations including planning and public health?”

Adblock Bristol has also set up a petition to the Council calling for it to prohibit advertising for products and services with high carbon footprints, such as flights, fossil fuel companies and the most polluting cars, in line with promises it made in Bristol’s One City Climate Strategy.

Robbie Gillett, co-founder of Adblock Bristol, explained,

Since Adblock Bristol was founded in 2017, we’ve worked with residents to stop dozens of large new digital ad screens in the city, organised community art projects to showcase positive alternatives to corporate advertising billboards, and lobbied the Council to update its planning policies and keep our parks ad-free.

The Council’s new advertising policy is an important first step for reducing the harms caused by some products. But there is a broader issue of how advertising and consumerism undermine our environment and our wellbeing. Ultimately, we want to see a huge reduction in the quantity of outdoor advertising we’re exposed to in public space to create a happier, healthier and less stressed out city.”

Bristol’s junk food advertising ban follows in the footsteps of Transport for London which introduced a similar ban in 2019. Fran Bernhardt, Children’s Food Campaign Coordinator at Sustain advised both Bristol City Council and the Mayor of London on these plans, and co-wrote the influential ‘Taking Down Junk Food Ads’ report. She welcomed the new policy in Bristol, saying,

“We’re delighted to see Bristol join the movement of councils prioritising their communities’ health and the environment ahead of corporate interests. Junk food advertising puts unhealthy and unsustainable products in the spotlight which is bad news for us and the planet. Bristol’s new Healthier Food Advertising policy sets the stage for healthier food, helping Bristolians to lead more healthy and sustainable lives.”

Matt Zarb-Cousin from the Coalition Against Gambling Ads also welcomed the decision, adding,

“Given the harms that can arise, gambling is now considered a public health issue and the advertising of gambling is negatively impacting on children. It’s welcome that Bristol City Council has recognised this, and we hope other local authorities follow their example.”

Although London and Bristol have broken new ground in the UK with these policies, globally other cities are ahead of them both. The ever-progressive city of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, is set to become the first in the world to ban advertising from the fossil fuel and aviation industries, after passing a motion in December 2020. And Grenoble in France and São Paulo in Brazil, have both undertaken large-scale removals of corporate outdoor advertising.

Watch the Bristol City Council cabinet meeting where the new Advertising & Sponsorship Policy was discussed, with petitions and questions submitted from Adblock Bristol and members of the public. (From 1hr 38 minutes in.)

Picture: Billboards in Bristol with adverts for junk food.

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