The ASA is harmful to public health

Dear The Advertising Standards Authority,

This is not a letter about the inconsistencies in your original hypocritical ruling regarding the Cycle Scotland advert. This is about how you are harming public health.

Last Wednesday you ruled that this advert could not be shown, full stop, simply because at the end a driver was shown, rather calmly and safely I must say, overtaking a lady who was cycling away from the kerb without a helmet1.

That the ASA exists shows that adverts have a power to not only lie but also mislead and lead astray. Everyone in the UK should be grateful that you counter this for the good of us all. Very little is more important than truth, and as you have the power to regulate it is quite right that you should concern yourself with public health and beneficial behaviours.

With this in mind it is supremely disturbing that the ASA claims to care about public health at the same time that it mandates actions that harm the nation. I am referring to your various rulings that showing cycling without helmets is prejudicial to health and safety.

Let’s be clear: there is no credible evidence showing helmets aid the protection of heads when cycling for transport. Indeed in countries where they have been made mandatory the proportion of head injuries has increased!2 An apparent contradiction, but one that you should be aware as you have waded into the difficult debate that is cycle helmets.

But we should not be discussing the effectiveness of helmets, for this completely derails the key point that you made in your original ruling: public health.

The fact is that having to wear helmets means people don’t cycle3, which is evidenced most severely in the very same countries that mandate helmets, as their cycle rates have been absolutely slashed. This could be for a variety of reasons. Inconvenience, they’re ‘dorky’, hair styles, or fear of police action. It doesn’t matter, the rates of cycling are devastatingly low.

Even promoting helmets reduces the number of people who cycle. Instead they’ll drive, resulting in a less active society, more pollution in our cities, and more cars on the road. Poor health from inactivity and pollution kill. The leading cause of death in children is motor traffic4. I’ll say that again because it’s so shocking.

The leading cause of death in children is motor traffic.

So when your ruling takes part in the promotion of cycle helmets you yourselves have become harmful to public health in a large part, as your existence and influence show. Please look at evidence and discover that you have a part to play in encouraging cycling, for the benefit of all.


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