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In the UK, the content of advertising, sales promotions and direct marketing across all media, including marketing on websites, is self-regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). It does this by enforcing the Advertising Codes; there are separate codes for non-broadcast and broadcast advertisements. All adverts are expected to be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”. The protection of children sits at the heart of the Advertising Codes. The Codes contain strict rules to protect children (and young people) from potentially misleading, harmful or offensive material.

The ASA is independent of both the Government and the advertising industry. It is recognised by the Government and other regulators as the body to deal with complaints about advertising. Its remit includes acting on and investigating complaints about advertisements as well as proactively monitoring and taking action against misleading, harmful or offensive advertisements, sales promotions and direct marketing. If a complaint about an advertisement is upheld, the advertiser must withdraw or amend the advertisement and not use the advertising approach again. All ASA adjudications are published.  

 In recent years, there has been an ongoing debate about the impact of advertising of foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) on levels of childhood obesity. Various campaign groups and health bodies are actively calling for tighter restrictions, particularly in respect of television and online advertising.

This Commons briefing paper looks at the current advertising regulatory system in the UK, with specific reference to advertising to children. Since this is a huge subject this paper can, at best, only touch on some of the main points. It draws heavily on the information provided by the ASA on its website.

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