London ULEZ radio adverts banned over ‘misleading’ air pollution claims

The UK’s advertising watchdog has banned a radio campaign raising awareness of the expansion of the London Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), on the grounds that it would mislead listeners on the air pollution benefits of the scheme.

London ULEZ radio adverts banned over ‘misleading’ air pollution claims

The audio snippet from the Greater London Authority (GLA) was first broadcast in spring 2023 on a range of national and London-only radio stations.

It was intended to prepare motorists for the expansion of the ULEZ from Central London to all London Boroughs in August 2023.

It stated: “According to research, one of the most polluted places in London is inside your car. That’s why the ULEZ is expanding across all London boroughs. Search ‘ULEZ 2023’ to find out about the support available. Let’s clear the air.”

Additionally, the advert likened switching to a ULEZ-compliant vehicle as a health and safety matter which drivers should take just as seriously as having functioning seatbelts, car mirrors, airbags and brakes.

Complainants to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) questioned whether the claim that being inside a car is “one of the most polluted places in London” could be substantiated and whether the wording of the claim could be misleading.

The GLA pointed to four studies on air pollution, plus four reviews of a greater number of studies on the matter. It also referred to the Chief Medical Officer’s annual report on urban air quality of 2022. These sources conclude that exposure to air pollution is highest when people are closest to sources of emissions, including petrol or diesel vehicles.

The ASA said several of the studies referenced looked at air pollution exposure for professional drivers including taxi and ambulance drivers. It therefore questioned whether the claim could apply to those taking shorter, less frequent trips for leisure or commuting.

The ASA also questioned whether exposure to pollution would be higher in a car than for those walking or cycling on busy roads, with studies cited proving this case using data from outside of London.

Overall, the ASA upheld the complaint and stated that the claim in the advert “had not been adequately substantiated and was likely to materially mislead”. This means that the campaign must not be aired on the radio again.

In initially announcing the expansion of the ULEZ to Greater London, Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “The ULEZ so far has been transformational, reducing harmful pollution levels by almost a half in central London. But there is still far too much toxic air pollution permanently damaging the health of young Londoners and leading to thousands of early deaths every year, with the greatest number of deaths in the outer London boroughs.”

The original ULEZ, first introduced in 2019, resulted in a 44% reduction in roadside nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions, a 40% reduction in particulate matter and a 5% cut in CO2 emissions from road transport.

But the expansion has faced fierce opposition from some Borough councils and local residents, over the application of a £12.50 daily charge for drivers of vehicles that do not comply with Euro 6 emissions requirements during the cost-of-living crisis.

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