The Federal Trade Commission yesterday moved toward an ultimate ban on television advertising aimed at young children. It would be directed primarily at ads for sugared snack foods.
The commission voted 4-to-0 to proceed with rule-making on the basis of a staff report that recommends the following measures:
A ban on all TV advertising for any product aimed at children too young - generally those under 8 - to evaluate the ads.
A ban on advertising for those foods thought to cause the most dental caries - mainly candy and presweetened cereal eaten between meals - on programs seen by a significant portion of children under 12.
A requirement that ads for less sugary or less risky foods be balanced by nutritional and/or health disclosures funded by the advertisers.
At the same time the FTC said it would solicit comments from the public and the food industry on other remedies it should consider. Short of outright bans, Commissioner Paul Rand Dixon suggested limitations on ads, including affirmative disclosure and nutritional information located in the body of the advertisements.
The process of public hearings across the country, comments followed by rebuttal statements, and reports and drafting is expected to take almost two years. Court battles may delay action even more. Robert Choate, who started pouring the contents of cereal boxes on congressional desks back in 1970 to criticize "empty calories," called the vote "magnificent, albeit a little late." Choate, who heads the Council on Children, Media and Merchandising, also lauded the commission for holding open hearing and getting the issue aired in public instead of presenting the rule as a ing the rule the tule as a fait acompli.
A spokesman for General Mills expressed "deep concern and disappointment that the FTC staff disregarded cmopletely the persuasive and factual data presented to the commission by child advertisers in the past few months. General Mills' advertising to children has been and is truthful.
"Adoption [of a ban] would represent a backword step in the cause of good nutrition. The fact is that breakfast with cereal almost always provides more nutrition than the noncereal breakfast." He cited three dental research studies that concluded presweetened cereals do not contribute to any increase in dental caries because they constitute only 2 percent of a child'd annual sugar consumption. Gerneral Mills makes such presweetened cereals as Trix, Frosty-O's, Crazy Cow and Kaboom.
Advertisers spend about $500 million annually on TV commercials aimed at children. One of the questions the FTC hopes will be answered during the public hearings is the degree to which the quantity or quality of children's programs would be affected by partial bans on ads. It will also seek authoritative answers to questions on whether a ban would violate advertisers' constitutional rights, on the age at which children can comprehend and evaluate ads, and on which products should be classified the most cariogenic.