Should billboards for sugary products be regulated?

It’s quite common now to see billboards along the skyline of most areas and roadways. The question that comes to mind when passing one is always “what is this billboard trying to say to society?”. These notice boards take a fragment of our conscious attention at a depreciating rate every day they tower above us. Over time, they diminish in value but tend to sink deeper into our less conscious memory. In reading NO LOGO by Naomi Klein a few years ago, she argues that no member of society actually asked for a diabetic reminder that SPRITE has something to do with our thirst. With an increasingly important focus on national health and well-being, a levy is charged per unit of sugar in the form of a SUGAR TAX. For the purpose of this note, the premise of Klein’s book rests upon the fact that marketing and advertising along roadways is not socially optional. In other words, whatever the product, regardless of it’s short and long term impact, communities will be confronted with its existence.

Either way, whatever message towers over the roadway is a legitimate proposition without an option to opt-out.

Not all viewers of these towering MONUMENTS OF CONSUMPTION actually end up purchasing the products. That’s not the advertorial priority. At the heart of the printed canvas is a proposition of legitimacy. Which implies that hey look this product exists and it is of public value. Most large beverage brands promote a lifestyle, while smaller ones are preoccupied with breaking through the taste threshold. It goes without saying that as products evolve they’re marketing evolves with them too. In the food industry the advertising is slightly more complicated. Some focus on communicating that households get more food at a lower price , while others focus on signature flavors and catchy themes (i.e. humour, family etc.). There are many other examples for different products and services. Some are located along roads to remind households that the brand exists, and reinforce its legitimacy; while others are placed in close proximity to the outlet (sometimes instructions about where to turn to get there are included). With billboards included roadways become information highways, even at walking speeds. Pedestrians walk with branded plastic bags, branded bottles and branded clothing– constantly communicating a product line on behalf of the brand. Drivers are confronted with these brands at scale along the roadways.

However, regulating the promotion of consuming such products that may harm our health does not seem to be a conversation on the table.

If sugars are taxed due to their impact on health, fats and other harmful edibles could probably be taxed too. However, regulating the promotion of consuming such products that may harm our health does not seem to be a conversation on the table. Which is not much of a surprise considering that there are MERCHANTS OF DOUBT everywhere as in the cigarette industry, based on Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s book. They reveal that there are deep inconsistencies in how policies are structured as a result of conflicting empirical evidence. It was extremely difficult to crack down on advertising cigarettes, communicating their health impacts, and taxing them accordingly. Perhaps it’s harmless to promote products that should be consumed with caution and curb them from becoming staple foods– a daily part of household diets. It could be more dangerous not to promote, or incentivize the advertising, and promotion of foodstuffs that ensure the longevity of households, their well-being and general health. Either way, whatever message towers over the roadway is a legitimate proposition without an option to opt-out.

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