In a landmark decision, Brighton and Hove City Council has resolved to prohibit the promotion of unhealthy food and energy drinks on bus and taxi shelters, as well as council-owned billboards. The move, aimed at curbing rising obesity rates, is set to be implemented in 2025 or 2026, coinciding with the conclusion of the current advertising contract.
The strategic decision was made during a session of the council’s Strategy, Finance, and City Regeneration Committee at Hove Town Hall on Thursday, December 7. Comprising senior councillors, the committee endorsed the ban as part of the upcoming contract for managing numerous bus and taxi shelters in Brighton and Hove.
The council leader, in a statement echoing the sentiment of the committee, expressed the primary objective of the ban, emphasizing its role in the fight against obesity. The commitment to public health comes at a potential financial cost, as detailed in a report presented to councillors.
According to the report, the ban could result in an estimated loss of nearly £150,000 in advertising revenue for the council in the first year, with a projection of over £220,000 over the initial two years. The report highlighted that fast food and energy drinks contribute to almost one-third of advertising revenue from public transport, potentially leading to service cuts.
The report outlined the alarming health statistics, indicating that one in three 11-year-olds in the city leaves primary school already overweight or obese. In some local schools, this figure rises to a concerning one in two. The consequences of obesity include an increased risk of diabetes, various cancers, heart disease, severe COVID-19, and other health issues affecting residents.
Advertising of high-fat, salt, and sugar-laden foods has been linked to a significant rise in their consumption, making restrictions on such advertisements a crucial step in mitigating the risk of obesity among children and adults. The report cited evidence-based measures, including advertising restrictions, as effective strategies to reduce the consumption of unhealthy food options.
At present, the contract for advertising, cleaning, and maintaining bus and taxi shelters is managed by Clear Channel on behalf of the council. The existing contract, extended in September 2022 due to economic instability following the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to expire in March 2024. A new tender process is required, and a temporary extension may be granted until March 2026.
The potential financial impact on the council is a matter of concern, given the estimated loss in advertising revenue. However, the report highlighted that a similar ban by Transport for London did not result in a significant drop in income, suggesting that advertisers adapted to the restrictions by diversifying their advertisements.
The proposed extension of the bus and taxi shelter contract could last 18 months, potentially extending to two years, providing the necessary time for the tender process. The subsequent contract is expected to span eight years with a possible two-year extension, allowing the successful bidder to invest in shelters and yield a return on their investment.
Recognizing the environmental impact, the council aims to introduce more digital media panels while addressing energy consumption concerns. The report noted the energy-intensive nature of current digital advertising panels and emphasized the inclusion of a requirement for lower-power digital panels in the new tender specification.
Moreover, the council’s commitment to public health extends to its estates team leasing advertising space on billboards across Brighton and Hove. However, the ban will only apply to council-owned advertising sites, excluding numerous other advertising sites and displays on or adjacent to public highways. The report acknowledged the potential risk of junk food ads persisting in proximity to bus shelters or council billboards, possibly diminishing the policy’s impact on public health.
Emphasizing the importance of adapting advertising regulations to prioritize residents’ health, the committee spokesperson reassured that diversification of ads could mitigate any major impact on income. The decision marks a significant step in the city’s commitment to fostering a healthier environment, with the ban poised to play a crucial role in reducing obesity rates among its residents.