Posts Tagged ‘consumer protection’
Wednesday, August 5th, 2015
In 2014 and 2015, the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) conducted testing to determine whether kids could purchase lottery tickets from the vending machines located in a number of area supermarkets. At markets in Cambridge, Somerville, and Arlington, Massachusetts, a teenage tester was easily able to purchase lottery tickets in every attempt.
Massachusetts law expressly prohibits the sale of lottery tickets to “any person under age eighteen.” Yet the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling reports that over two-thirds of teenage boys (aged 14-17) have gambled in the past year, and over half of teenage girls have done so. About a third of these children gambled by playing lottery games.
On March 10, 2015, PHAI sent Stop & Shop a legal demand under Massachusetts’ consumer protection law, on behalf of the father of the teenage purchaser, Cambridge City Councilor Craig Kelley, and on behalf of the national non-profit Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation, seeking steps to prevent children from using the lottery ticket vending machines in the company’s stores. According to the demand letter, selling the tickets to minors is an unfair and deceptive sales practice prohibited by law.
The action drew media attention and led to an editorial in the Boston Globe urging that the problem be addressed. Representatives from Stop & Shop responded by working with the Massachusetts Lottery Commission to activate drivers’ license scanners in the lottery ticket machines, which operate to confirm that a lottery ticket purchaser is at least 18 years old before the machine will vend a ticket. Stop & Shop informed PHAI last week that all of its lottery ticket vending machines would have these protections in place by the end of July, 2015.
PHAI staff spot checked Stop & Shop machines in 3 counties and found that its machines will, in fact, not operate without first scanning an adult driver’s license.
Cambridge City Councilor Kelley said he was pleased to see some progress made. “It’s a real problem,” Kelley said. “As a father and as a city councilor, I was truly shocked at how easy it was for a kid to buy tickets from these machines.”
Mark Gottlieb, executive director of PHAI, noted that “While Stop & Shop’s efforts to quickly address the problem are laudable, the vast majority of lottery ticket vending machines in the state don’t have driver’s license scanners. This includes many places like bowling alleys and convenience stores that are frequented by kids.” Gottlieb added that “we will continue to work to prevent sales of scratch tickets to kids through vending machines as a public health policy measure.”
Thursday, December 19th, 2013
December 19, 2013
The Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) at Northeastern University School of Law, along with our partners at the Center for Digital Democracy and Berkeley Media Studies Group, today releases State Law Approaches to Address Digital Food Marketing to Youth. It is a first-of-its kind resource that provides an evidence base and action steps grounded in state law. State attorneys general and other stakeholders in children’s health and privacy can use it to put a stop to troubling digital marketing practices that deceive youth and their parents.
In addition to clear explanations of how digital marketing works and why it poses privacy and health risks to youth, key legal issues for state regulators are explored. These issues include personal jurisdiction over out-of-state food and beverage marketing and media companies; the interplay of federal and state laws regulating mobile marketing; and the application of state promotions laws to child consumers.
Key findings include:
- Research demonstrates that digital marketing is harder for children to identify than traditional television advertising, heightening the need for regulatory oversight.
- Nickelodeon, the biggest source of food ads seen by youth, has augmented its media empire through websites, mobile apps and programming that imports content from a popular YouTube channel. All of its digital platforms are ad-supported creating new opportunities for food and beverage companies to target youth.
- Digital campaigns are seamlessly woven into food packaging allowing marketers to target youth in supermarkets, convenience stores and fast food restaurants. Packaging often directs youth to digital marketing on mobile devices or online. State regulators have jurisdiction over unfair and deceptive marketing on food packages sold to consumers in their states.
- Mobile marketing elements are integrated into food and beverage campaigns. The legal landscape for state oversight of mobile marketing includes federal and state SPAM and telemarketing laws, and the emerging regulation of geolocation tactics.
- States are authorized to protect child privacy under federal law and have successfully done so, but teens are not covered by child privacy laws. State attorneys general can fill the teen privacy gap using their general consumer protection authority to ensure that company promises to protect privacy are honored and that teens are not duped into sharing personal information.
- Facebook remains the dominant social media platform for teens. Teens growing use of social media has resulted in them being less privacy savvy. Food companies exploit this by prompting teens to login to their websites and participate in promotions via Facebook thereby granting marketers access to vast amounts of personal information.
- Digital sweepstakes and contests are in widespread use by the food industry with children as young as 6 years old. Despite repeated enforcement actions by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (a self-regulatory body); food companies continue to conduct digital promotions with children that exploit their inability to understand that a free means of entry exists or their odds of winning a prize. State attorney general action is needed to augment these self-regulatory efforts to protect children from predatory promotions.
Senior Staff Attorney, Cara Wilking, who was lead author of the report, noted that, “state attorneys general are in a unique position to leverage state law approaches to stop unfair, deceptive, or otherwise illegal digital marketing of unhealthy foods to our youngest and most vulnerable consumers.”
PHAI’s Executive Director, Mark Gottlieb, added, “there is a general failure to understand the disturbing marketing practices that are becoming commonplace in the digital marketing world. This report goes a long way toward closing the knowledge gap between those using powerful technology to sell junk to kids and those who have the responsibility to protect them.”
- Executive Summary
- Why Digital Marketing Is Different
- Packaging: Digital Marketing at the Moment of Truth
- Personal Jurisdiction
- Mobile Food & Beverage Marketing
- Facebook Advertising
- Incentives-Based Interactive Food & Beverage Marketing
- Appendix: State Law Profiles
Support for State Law Approaches to Address Digital Food Marketing to Youth was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations Healthy Eating Research Program (#69293).
Tuesday, September 17th, 2013
Michele Simon is a public health lawyer specializing in industry marketing and lobbying tactics. She is the author of Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back, and president of Eat Drink Politics, an industry watchdog consulting business.
Ms. Simon asks PHAI’s senior staff attorney, Cara Wilking, about deceptive food marketing to kids, concerns about food industry self-regulation of marketing practices, technical assistance we provide, and what PHAI and lawyers like Cara can contribute to the good food movement.
Access the interview here.
New study finds McDonald’s and Burger King responsible for 99% of fast-food television ads for kids, suggests industry’s efforts to self-regulate its marketing practices are ineffective
Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Fast-food companies emphasize toy giveaways and movie tie-ins rather than food products when marketing to kids on television, which suggests that industry is not abiding by its self-regulatory pledges for child-directed marketing, according to a study co-authored by the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law. The study, “How Television Fast Food Marketing Aimed at Children Compares with Adult Advertisements,” is published in PLOS ONE and found that among ads for children’s meals, toy giveaways appeared in 69 percent of ads and movie tie-ins were used in 55 percent of ads.
“Fast-food companies use free toys and popular movies to appeal to kids and their ads are much more focused on promotions, brands, and logos—not on the food,” said James Sargent, Professor of Pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the lead author of the study. “These are techniques that the companies’ own self-regulatory body calls potentially misleading and it’s a clear sign that they’re not living up to their pledges about marketing to kids.”
Sargent and his colleagues examined all nationally televised ads for children’s meals by leading fast-food restaurants for one year, from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. They compared ads for kids with ads for adults from the same companies to assess whether self-regulatory pledges for food marketing to children had been implemented.
Key findings include:
- Nearly all (99%) of the ads that aired during the study period were attributable to McDonald’s (70%) and Burger King (29%).
- McDonald’s had the strongest emphasis on the children’s market, with 40% of its 44,062 ads aimed at kids, compared to 21% of 37,210 aired ads for Burger King.
- Seventy-nine percent of the fast-food ads aimed at kids aired on only four channels: Cartoon Network (32.3%), Nickelodeon (18.3%), Disney XD (16.2%), and Nicktoons (12.4%).
- Compared with fast food ads for adults, kids ads emphasized branding and the food images were smaller. For example:
- Images of food packaging were present in 88 percent of ads directed at kids and 23 percent of ads for adults.
- A street view of the restaurant appeared in 41 percent of ads directed at kids and 12 percent of ads for adults.
- Food images averaged 20 percent of the screen diagonal in kids’ ads, but 45 percent of the screen diagonal in adult ads.
Leaders of the food and beverage industry have publicly recognized the need to reform marketing practices targeting children. In 2006, the Council of Better Business Bureaus launched the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), a voluntary pledge by major U.S. food manufacturers to advertise only healthier products to young children. McDonald’s and Burger King participate in the CFBAI. Both companies also have pledged to abide by marketing guidelines set by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit, which include a provision stating that food—not toys or other promotions—should be the primary focus of ads directed at kids.
“This study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that there’s a big gap between what industry has promised and what they’re actually doing when it comes to marketing to kids,” said Cara Wilking, J.D. of the Public Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law. “There comes a point when intervention by a regulatory body like the Federal Trade Commission or state Attorneys General is needed to address self-regulatory failures. These findings suggest we’ve reached it with respect to fast food marketing to kids.”
A recent report by the Federal Trade Commission found that among all U.S. food and beverage companies, fast-food companies spent the most on marketing directed at youths ages 2 to 17—more than $714 million in 2009. The report also found that fast-food companies have dramatically increased their spending on television ads and new media targeting kids ages 2 to 11. Further analysis of that report shows while some fast-food restaurants slightly improved the nutritional quality of kids’ meals, the number of child-directed television ads for other higher-calorie meals and menu items more than doubled from 2006 to 2009.
Friday, March 8th, 2013
Food companies used viral digital marketing tactics, such as “tell-a-friend” web campaigns, to induce children to share e-mail addresses of their friends and spread brand advertising of unhealthy foods among their peers. Even very young children are targeted by these campaigns, which may be considered unfair and deceptive and in violation of state consumer protection laws.
PHAI has prepared a legal issue brief on this topic for state attorneys general as well as stakeholders in children’s health and privacy. The brief explains the tactics that are used and suggests ways that they can be addressed, particularly under state law.
This work was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research Program (#69293).
PHAI joins the Center for Digital Democracy and others in complaint to FTC over children’s websites’ “Tell-A-Friend” tactics
Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012
Today the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston has joined a coalition of children’s, health, privacy and consumer advocacy organizations in a complaint to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission against several children’s websites for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The offending children’s websites use a “Tell-A-Friend” feature to induce children to provide e-mail addresses of their peers. The websites involved include McDonald’s HappyMeal.com, General Mills’ ReesesPuffs.com and TrixWorld.com, Doctor’s Associates’ SubwayKids.com, Viacom’s Nick.com, and Turner Broadcasting’s CartoonNetwork.com.
The Tell-A-Friend tactic uses a game or other child-targeted activity as a way to engage children in an immersive marketing experience and then directs users to share the activity with friends by entering multiple e-mail addresses. Those children will receive an e-mail that may or may not appear to be from their friend urging them to go to a child-targeted marketing website. This viral marketing tactic creates and reinforces brand awareness providing value to the advertiser. All of this occurs without prompts for any parental consent and, in McDonald’s case, may involve distributing a photograph of the child taken by webcam to recipients of the e-mail message.
Mark Gottlieb, Executive Director of PHAI, noted that, “COPPA was enacted by Congress to protect children under 13 from divulging any personal information to commercial interests on the Internet without the consent of a parent. By inducing young kids to provide the e-mail addresses of their peers, the companies involved here are certainly violating the spirit of COPPA and, it would appear, the letter of the law as well through these “Tell-A-Friend” practices. This is something that state attorneys general could also investigate under their consumer protection authority because these tactics are unfair and deceptive.”
In addition to the Center for Digital Democracy which has published the complaints on its website, PHAI was joined by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, Center for Media Justice, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children Now, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, ChangeLab Solutions, Global Action Project, Media Literacy Project, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Public Citizen, and the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University.
Wednesday, September 21st, 2011
Food and beverage marketing targeting children is a major focus of the food and beverage industry because, as the Institute of Medicine’s report on the subject bluntly declared, “marketing works.”
Deceptive and unfair marketing to promote high-calorie low-nutrient foods and beverages affect parent-consumer food purchasing decisions and induce demand among children for products that contribute to obesity and overweight. Such marketing campaigns can run afoul of an array of legal authorities that provide consumer protection from such practices.
PHAI conducted extensive 50-state research examining the provisions of state consumer protection laws of the United States that prohibit unfair, deceptive or unconscionable sales and marketing campaigns. Depending on the state, these consumer protection laws may be used by stakeholders in child health, including parents, as well as state attorneys general to stop unfair or deceptive marketing and advertising of unhealthy food and beverage products linked to overweight and obesity in children and adolescents.
The research focuses on the legal limits of: (1) direct marketing to children and teens in an effort to get them to use their own spending money to purchase food products for themselves; and (2) “pester power” marketing that targets children in an effort to get them to persuade their parents into buying products for them. To make it easy to find and compare state consumer protection laws, we have created an interactive map linking to consumer protection law profiles of every state and the District of Columbia.
Key findings of our state consumer protection research also are summarized in a report and a legal issue brief:
- Major Findings from 50-State Survey of State Consumer Protection Law to Limit Junk Food Marketing to Children by Cara Wilking, JD and Mark Gottlieb, JD summarizes and contextualizes our research (pdf).
- Reining in Pester Power Food and Beverage Marketing by Cara Wilking, JD applies our research to food marketers who appeal to kids’ ability to nag adults to purchase unhealthy foods (pdf).
A clear understanding of consumer protection rights and the sources of their legal authority will provide guidance for policymakers and advocates for children’s health who seek to curb these practices without the need for new legislation and regulatory measures.
This research was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research Program (#66968).
Wednesday, May 18th, 2011
Prepared by Cara Wilking, J.D., Staff Attorney
Santa Clara County, CA and the City and County of San Francisco, CA enacted ordinances requiring restaurants to meet nutrition criteria for children’s meals that use incentive items such as toys to drive child consumer demand. Neither law bans the use of toys or other incentive items, and both laws are designed to protect children from being baited into requesting unhealthy meals. The Governor of Arizona recently signed into law a provision barring local governments from putting any limits on the use of “consumer incentive items” in “retail food establishment marketing.” Florida currently has an even broader law on the Governor’s desk that would prevent local control over “all matters related to the nutritional content and marketing of foods offered” at public food and lodging establishments. As chronicled by the LA Times, both of these laws were carefully orchestrated by the restaurant industry in response to so-called “toy bans.” In point of fact, both laws go far beyond Happy Meal toys.
In addition to protecting vulnerable child consumers, local governments regulate business conduct under their police power and zoning authority for a number of reasons including aesthetics, public health and public safety. Arizona’s consumer incentives law essentially exempts food retailers from any local regulation that may have an impact on their business activities related to consumer incentives. “Consumer incentives” are broadly defined to include: “any licensed media character, toy, game, trading card, contest, point accumulation, club membership, admission ticket, token, code or password for digital access, coupon, voucher, incentive, crayons, coloring placements or other premium prize or consumer product” associated with a meal served by or acquired from a restaurant, food establishment or convenience store. The legislation pending in Florida strips local control over “all matters related to the nutritional content and marketing of foods offered” at public food and lodging establishments.
Many communities maintain the character of their communities through local aesthetic-related zoning laws. Imagine a small city with a historic downtown preserved by local zoning ordinances to protect the aesthetic character of the city. The community becomes concerned when a quick service restaurant starts putting large signs in its windows marketing a combo meal with a wrapper that one can scan with one’s phone to get points towards a future purchase. A local authority goes out to talk to the franchise owner and ask him to remove the signs as they are not in keeping with the local zoning ordinance. The restaurant owner refuses to remove the signs. Under the legislation enacted in Arizona and pending in Florida, the city would be powerless to challenge the practice.
The as yet to be enacted Florida law, is so broad that it would prevent local governments from requiring additional nutritional disclosures to consumers about the calorie or sodium content of restaurant menu items. In addition, some states delegate consumer protection authority to city and county attorneys. Such authority was used by a city attorney to make the first formal challenge to misleading “Immunity” claims on children’s cereal marketed at the height of the swine flu outbreak. The pending Florida law arguably would even exempt any food marketing by a restaurant or public lodging from local city or county attorney enforcement of deceptive and unfair business practices laws.
A recent story by Reuters run in a number of news outlets analogized the current legislation to “cheeseburger” or “commonsense consumption” bills, also sponsored by the restaurant industry. Cheeseburger bills are on the books in over 20 states and bar personal injury claims against food makers and restaurants for injuries related to long term over-consumption of food. Many state cheeseburger bills, however, do not immunize food sellers from liability when they knowingly violate laws pertaining to marketing, distributing, advertising, labeling or sale of the goods such as state consumer protection statutes prohibiting deceptive, unfair or unconscionable trade practices. The very purpose of local ordinances tying child incentive items to nutritional quality is to protect children from the fundamentally unfair and deceptive use of toys to generate child requests for unhealthy foods. The Arizona and Florida laws contain no such exemption to allow local intervention to protect vulnerable consumers from deceptive and unfair food marketing.
The law in Arizona and the pending legislation in Florida, strip local governments not only of the ability to protect children from harmful business conduct, their expansive nature jeopardizes local control over many other important business conduct issues. These laws fundamentally change the rules of the game that local governments have depended on to maintain community character and to protect their communities.
Future of Obesity Litigation panel featuring PHAI’s Gottlieb and CSPI’s Gardner airs and is available online
Monday, February 28th, 2011
On January 21, 2011, Northeastern University Law Journal sponsored its third annual symposium. This year, it was entitled “From Seed to Stomach,” and addressed legal and regulatory aspects of obesity and food safety. The symposium was recorded for broadcast by CSPAN, which aired the material from February 25-28, 2011.
PHAI’s Executive Director, Mark Gottlieb, along with Stephen Gardner (Director of Litigation for the Center for Science in the Public Interest) appeared on a panel moderated by Stuart Rossman (Director of Litigation for the National Consumer Law Center) focused on the future of obesity litigaiton. The 80 minute panel is archived on CSPAN’s website. Topics addressed included the “cheeseburger bills,” the role of and use of arguments around choice and individual responsibility, consumer protection law, and the litigation against McDonald’s use of toy giveaways to sell Happy Meals.
Research upon which Mr. Gottlieb’s presentation was based was supported in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research Program (#66968) and by the National Institutes of Health (grant RO1 CA 87571).
Thursday, February 24th, 2011
Which state consumer protection provisions could be used to protect kids from junk food marketing?
The Alabama Deceptive Trade Practices Act (“DTPA”) prohibits deceptive acts including:
- “Passing off goods or services as those of another, provided that this section shall not prohibit the private labeling of goods or services.” Ala. Code § 8-19-5(1);
- “Causing confusion or misunderstanding as to the source, sponsorship, approval, or certification of goods or services.” Ala. Code § 8-19-5(2);
- “Causing confusion or misunderstanding as to the affiliation, connection, or association with, or certification by another, provided that this section shall not prohibit the private labeling of goods or services.” Ala. Code § 8-19-5(3); and
- “Representing that goods or services have sponsorship, approval, characteristics, ingredients, uses, benefits, or qualities that they do not have or that a person has sponsorship, approval, status, affiliation, or connection that he or she does not have.” Ala. Code § 8-19-5(5).
The DTPA also contains a catch-all provision that prohibits “[e]ngaging in any other unconscionable, false, misleading, or deceptive act or practice in the conduct of trade or commerce.” Ala. Code § 8-19-5(27). When construing the DTPA courts are to give “due consideration and great weight” to interpretations of the Federal Trade Commission and the federal courts relating to relevant portions of the Federal Trade Commission Act. Ala. Code § 8-19-6.
Does Alabama law have any special protections for child consumers?
The DTPA does not have any special provisions dealing with child consumers. It does direct state courts to be guided by interpretations given by the FTC and the federal courts. The Federal Trade Commission has recognized an exception from the general “reasonable person” standard for FTCA actions when advertising is aimed at a vulnerable or particularly susceptible audience. Federal Trade Commission, See Deception Policy Statement, appended to In re Cliffdale Assocs., Inc., 103 F.T.C. 110, 177 (1984), http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/policystmt/ad-decept.htm. This lesser standard should be applied when children, who by their very nature are particularly susceptible, are the target audience of food advertising.
Who can bring a lawsuit?
The Attorney General, and individual consumers may file suit. Class actions brought by consumers are not permitted, but the Attorney General may file class actions in a representative capacity to recover actual damages on behalf of consumers. Ala. Code § 8-19-10(f).
What needs to be shown to make out a claim?
In order to make out a claim under the DTPA a plaintiff must allege that the defendant committed an act declared unlawful by the DTPA and that act caused the plaintiff monetary damages. Ala. Code § 8-19-10(a). While not all of the enumerated violations of the DTPA require that the unlawful act be committed knowingly, the statute contains a “defense” provision whereby a defendant may defend a claim “upon a showing by a preponderance of the evidence . . . that such person did not knowingly commit any act or knowingly engage in any activity which constitutes a violation of any provision of this chapter.” Ala. Code § 8-19-13. Thus, plaintiffs should be able to establish that the act was committed knowingly.
What are the powers of the Attorney General to protect kids from junk food marketing?
The Attorney General may conduct investigations and enforce the DTPA by seeking injunctive relief, monetary damages, and civil penalties of up to $25,000 for violations of an injunction and up to $2,000 for violations of the DTPA committed knowingly. Ala. Code § 8-19-4(a); Ala. Code § 8-19-8; Ala. Code § 8-19-11.
How does the law compensate consumers?
Prevailing consumers shall be awarded actual damages or $100, whichever is greater or up to three times any actual damages in the court’s discretion. Ala. Code § 8-19-10(a).
Who is liable for attorney’s fees?
The court shall award prevailing consumers costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. Ala. Code § 8-19-10(a)(3). The court also has the discretion to award a defendant reasonable attorney’s fees and costs upon a finding that an action was frivolous or brought in bad faith. Ala. Code. § 8-19-10(a)(3).
DISLCAIMER: This legal summary is for informational purposes only. Please consult an attorney for legal advice. All information reflects legal research conducted in 2010.
Supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research Program (#66968).