Saturday, October 28, 2006

Health Warnings on Car Ads

A year ago, Andrew Simms from the New Economics Foundation suggested that 4x4s should be made to carry health warnings similar to tobacco products. His reasoning was that "the gap between image and reality with SUVs is reminiscent of that in tobacco industry advertising. After all, the scientific consensus over the causes and consequences of climate change closely mirrors that about smoking and cancer. And in the same way as the tobacco advertisers, car advertisers have tried to associate their product with masculinity, health and the outdoor life. So shouldn't SUVs now be labelled in the same way as cigarette packets, with messages such as ...'Climate change can seriously damage your health'?"

According to Simms, "If you peer at the small print on car adverts, you can find out how many grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre a car will produce. But that's meaning- less without comparative figures. The government plans to pilot a new labelling scheme based on the green-to-red, A-to-G European labels that are found on electrical appliances." He adds, "Canadian government research, backed by World Bank findings, shows that there is a direct relationship between the size of warnings and the effect on personal behaviour. 'The larger the health warning message,' reports Health Canada, 'the more effective it is at encouraging smokers to stop smoking.'"

Finally, he suggests "Like those for cigarettes, the warnings could cover 30-50 per cent of the vehicles' surface area. People could still drive them, but when they did, they would publicly accept the consequences of their actions, and help the education drive on traffic safety and global warming."

In 2005, a study in the British Medical Journal also suggested health warnings, but based on their poor design. They called for 'warning notices on SUVs to help inform consumers of the increased risks of severe injuries and death associated with the vehicles. Because SUV bonnets are higher than those of cars, there is a more severe initial impact on the upper leg and pelvis, and a doubling of injuries to vulnerable regions such as the head, thorax, and abdomen. '

Given all the news about 4x4s lately, is the writing on the wall for health warnings? Well, maybe not as dramatic as Simms recommends, but we have been noticing how inappropriately tiny the CO2 and fuel-efficiency figures are on large billboards as well as magazine ads. You have to really search for the figures. Is that supposed to responsibly inform someone considering purchasing a new 4x4?

Well, maybe that is all set to change. Labour MP Colin Challen is set to introduce a bill that will call for one-quarter of all vehicle ads to focus on fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions information. Mr Challen said: "More and more consumers want to do their bit to combat climate change and so we need to enlarge the small print to be able to see precisely how our new car purchase impacts on the environment."