In a Food and Drug Law Institute (FDLI) Update article titled “State Law Approaches to Curtail Digital Food Marketing Tactics Targeting Young Children,” Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) staff attorney Cara Wilking describes the types of digital marketing to children younger than age 8 that should be proscribed because they are unable to identify it as marketing. These include “advergames” and “digital sweepstakes,” which Wilking contends constitute deceptive trade practices and illegal lotteries.

She calls for food and beverage companies to cease using “harmful digital marketing tactics” and for state attorneys general to take action against this marketing under consumer-protection statutes. Among other matters, Wilking argues that a number of state consumer-protection laws “explicitly address indirect advertising akin to pester power marketing in order to cover unfair and deceptive marketing that is designed to influence others” as she explains how the parental responsibility concept should not preclude legal interventions to protect child consumers.

PHAI President Richard Daynard was long active in campaigns against cigarette manufacturers, and Wilking compares the “limited progress made to reduce children’s exposure to potentially harmful food marketing via  the federal government and self-regulatory bodies, and the magnitude of the health threats posed by diet-related chronic disease and its impact on state healthcare systems” to “the nation’s history with tobacco control.” She notes, “As occurred with tobacco marketing, intervention by [state attorneys general] may just be the game-changer that accelerates progress on harmful food marketing to children.” See FDLI Update, January/February 2014.