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"Think of the children!" - How Lancet researchers parodise themselves

Bill Wirtz
March 4, 2020

The Lancet's new "A Future for the World's Children?" report is once again some heavy nanny-stating. But this time, it goes right into real-life parody, argues Bill Wirtz.

The once well respected, but increasingly loony Lancet has in recent years endorse some of the harshest Nanny State policies around. From advertising restrictions to taxation of sugary drinks, the Lancet has yet to find a paternalistic policy it doesn't like. In its newest release, the medical journal is going after advertising to children, which it views as a major threat to children and young adolescents.

Lancet Editor-in-Chief Richard Horton recently told policy-makers in a press release that marketing for cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, alcohol, and junk food is increasingly worrying, and worsening public health concerns. This new report even calls for an optional protocol to be added to the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child that would mandate governments to regulate or ban marketing to children for things like sugary drinks and alcohol. "We are living in a fossil fuel-based, consumptive, production driven economy, which creates the conditions for harming the health of children", Horton adds, saying that "I don't think any of us can be happy that this is the world that we're creating."

The Lancet's claim that companies are deliberately marketing unhealthy food and other vices to children is hard to grasp. Reading this, all readers are certainly questioning if tobacco companies are putting their cigarettes in strollers. Nothing of the sort has, obviously, happened so far.

Equally, the Lancet continues to condemn that children are subject to alcohol advertising during sports events. They're referring to the fact that during interruptions of sports broadcasts, there are ads for beer or spirits, which are not only targeted towards adults, but are also accompanied with warning messages about the hazardous nature of these products. In essence, the researchers claim that any ad that could be seen by a child should not contain any risky products, which would, with the fringe exceptions of places such as 18+ cinema screenings, hit every single ad. Adding to that: from my own experience, I can say that sports events like football or motorsport would be something that as a child I would watch with my dad… who would drink a beer during the event. We should not over-inflate our perception of what advertising is really able to do.

In a piece for Comment Central in September, I had laid out why the ASA's restrictions on certain advertising was equally patronising.

It is also thoroughly contradictory that the Lancet would argue against advertising for harm-reducing products such as e-cigarettes, notably since its own research in other areas of the world (such as New Zealand) shows that vaping has displaced youth cigarette smoking.

Overall, consumers shouldn't be patronised by blanked advertising bans. There is a case to be made that children should be protected, and many services (such as the video-streaming platform YouTube) already offer browser-based parental controls. However, it is parents that need to play the biggest role in the education of children. Confronting and discussing advertising and the availability of potentially harmful products is a role of parents that they cannot fully or even confidently outsource to the State.

Following the advice of the Lancet would lead us down the path of overprotecting children, all while reducing the consumer choice and information of adult consumers.

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Bill Wirtz is a policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center. He has written for Newsweek, the Washington Examiner, City AM, RealClear, The Daily Caller and CapX.
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