RECENTLY, the City of Sydney Council committed to banning fossil fuel advertising on its properties and events. The decision followed an open letter signed by more than 200 health professionals and organisations asking for such bans because of the damaging effects of fossil fuel combustion on health and the climate.

Those behind the fossil fuel advertising ban, CommsDeclare, are not doctors but a group led by marketing, public relations, advertising and media professionals. They advocate for tobacco-style bans on fossil fuel advertising and sponsorship.

So, will the health sector take a stand on this public health issue as it did with tobacco?

The action by CommsDeclare parallels the Australian campaign to ban tobacco advertising on health grounds that started to produce successes in the mid to late 1970s.

The 2022 Tobacco in Australia review by the Cancer Council outlined the main arguments in support of implementing comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, including the devastating health consequences of tobacco use; the failure of the tobacco industry to effectively self-regulate; and the deceptive and misleading nature of tobacco marketing campaigns.

These arguments are as applicable to the fossil fuel industry as they are to the tobacco industry. To these, we can add the existential threat to humanity that the continued use of fossil fuels poses via uncontrollable climate change. For this is not just about individual health but the very survival of our species on a planet rapidly approaching irreversible tipping points.

Like tobacco, the health consequences of fossil fuel combustion are already well documented. These are either directly from air pollution or indirectly mediated through climate change impacts at just over 1°C of warming thus far.

Deaths due to air pollution from fossil fuel combustion are estimated to be 8 million annually or around one in five deaths globally. In Australia, an estimated 2600 people die prematurely each year from anthropogenic air pollution. These deaths largely relate to increased cardiovascular and respiratory mortality in relation to fine particulate matter < 2.5 µm (PM2.5).

A recent study estimated that between 2000 and 2019, more than 5 million annual premature deaths were attributable to a warming climate.

Global deaths due to weather-related disasters have been approximately 2 million in the past 50 years, with climate change driving more frequent events. As the recent floods in Pakistan have shown, the impacts of such events are not just on mortality but widespread disruption to housing, agriculture and infrastructure, with those most marginalised being most at risk.

In Australia in 2022, we have seen how the floods in Queensland and New South Wales have had profound social impacts with tens of thousands of people having been evacuated, homes destroyed, and communities now facing years of rebuilding.

Climate change can also have profound impacts on health care delivery and access. As the 2019–2020 bushfires in Australia demonstrated, health systems subject to natural disasters can be overwhelmed with disruption to power, transport and communications.

We banned tobacco advertising because of the harm it caused. The number of people dying from fossil fuel combustion is at least comparable to the current worldwide smoking-related deaths of 8 million annually. Deaths would be higher without tobacco advertising bans. A review of the effects of tobacco adverting laws in 30 low income countries showed that comprehensive bans resulted in a 23.5% reduction in per capita consumption of tobacco. Comprehensive advertising bans are essential to reducing the health burden of tobacco use.

We need to rapidly shift cultural attitudes to transition to a decarbonised economy now. This means we must consider all measures, including banning the marketing of fossil fuels.

The fossil fuel industry like the tobacco industry is incapable of self-regulation. As reports from all over the world of record-breaking temperatures and unprecedented heatwaves, floods, droughts, and cyclones continue, the fossil fuel industry has done nothing to change its own behaviour.

The pathway to net zero as outlined by the International Energy Agency precludes new fossil fuel development or extension to existing projects. Yet an analysis of eight of the world’s largest oil and gas companies found that they alone are involved in over 200 new projects expected to be approved for development from 2022 to 2025, resulting in an additional 8.6 gigatonnes of carbon pollution – equivalent to more than one-quarter of the world’s total energy sector emissions in 2020. Their actions then are effectively a bet against the success of the Paris Agreement and a lethal dose for humanity.

As these companies continue with business as usual, they are at the same time marketing their green credentials. A recent investigation found that company pledges to decarbonise and transition are not met by concrete actions. A review of their financial statements reveals a continuing business model dependent on fossil fuels and insignificant and opaque spending on clean energy.

ClientEarth, an environmental law charity, outlines the evidence for greenwashing of eight major fossil fuel companies, concluding that their advertising fails to match with the real commitments on climate action.

And in Australia, the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) filed new allegations against Santos in the Federal Court case it started in August 2021. ACCR claims the gas producer has breached Australian consumer law by misleading investors about its climate credentials.

The sole purpose of advertising is to promote the ongoing consumption of the company’s product. Having known since the 1970s that burning fossil fuels causes climate change, fossil fuel companies, through sophisticated campaigns, have intentionally cast doubt on the science in a strategy that parallels that used by tobacco companies to delay action against them.

Overstating the attributes of new technologies such as carbon capture and storage, when all such projects have never been shown to work at the scale needed to address the climate crisis, provides a further avenue for them to continue their polluting.

Fossil fuel advertising postpones the shift in social and political attitudes that is urgently required to transition to safer, cleaner energy. These companies are perfectly aware that fossil fuels must end very soon, but in pursuit of profit, each company is competing to be the last one standing. And we now have less than 8 years to halve greenhouse gas emissions according to scientists.

It was the health sector in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia that presented evidence for the health impacts of smoking and who lobbied for tobacco advertising bans. We acted because of the harm that smoking caused, the deceptive nature of the industry’s marketing, and the failure of the industry to self-regulate. We now need to turn our focus squarely and urgently on fossil fuel advertising.

The pathway to achieving net zero is now extremely narrow. Even if all pledges by governments to date were fully achieved the world would still be well short of the emissions reductions necessary to keep to below 1.5°C. Only urgent, rapid and deep cuts to emissions will give us a chance. Allowing fossil fuel companies to promote their climate-destroying activities must be stopped.

The health sector collectively needs to take a position on fossil fuel advertising and sponsorship as we did with tobacco and not be complicit through our silence. We call on our colleges, our medical schools and leading health organisations to step up and support a complete ban on fossil fuel advertising and sponsorship.

Richard Yin is a Perth GP and a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia.

Carolyn Orr is a neurologist from Western Australia and a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia.



The statements or opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official policy of the AMA, the MJA or InSight+ unless so stated.

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Health professionals should advocate for banning fossil fuel advertising
  • Strongly agree (58%, 44 Votes)
  • Strongly disagree (36%, 27 Votes)
  • Agree (4%, 3 Votes)
  • Neutral (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Disagree (1%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 76

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18 thoughts on “As with tobacco, we must ban fossil fuel advertising

  1. Maple says:

    Thankѕ for finally writіng about > As with tobacco, we must
    ban fossil fuel advertising | InSight+ bosch

  2. Paddy Cullen says:

    Fossil fuels involves three horsemen of the apocalypse, Air pollution, climate change and plastic toxicity (yes plastic choking our oceans and microplastics building up in ever greater amounts in our bodies is caused also by fossil fuels). The fourth horseman is apathy. Just letting companies and governments get away with it. Fossil fuels are not just a threat to human health but to entire ecosystems and to our existence of human life on Earth. Banning advertising is a first and important step to banning the complacent culture that will otherwise drive the train of humanity full steam over the cliff.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I totally agree with Rosemary Stanton, gambling ads are immoral and pernicious. Gambling addiction hurts families, causes crime and ruins lives. There is very little fossil fuel advertising, but gambling ads are numerous, during sport on TV and cynically aimed at young men.

  4. Katherine Barraclough says:

    Thanks to the authors for calling fossil fuels out for what they are – a threat far greater than has ever been posed by tobacco. We know the power of advertising so I agree it is past time to stop promoting something that is causing just so much harm.

  5. Dr Nicole Sleeman says:

    Health professionals have a hippocratic oath to publicly advocate to do no harm. Climate Change is causing extensive harm to the health and well-being of people, globally. Health professionals who silo themselves within a 4-walled consult room, or on a hospital floor, fail to understand the greater inputs that predict the health of individual patients and the communities within which we practice. For a profession based upon good-will, service and a principle of First Do No Harm, it is a no-brainer that we are involved in putting an end to the profit-driven extractive industries for which there is now overwhelming evidence of negative human health impacts. Great article, and may this instigate more movement within our profession to expand our capacity to understand the extent that climate change threatens our very existence, our role in mitigation and adaptation, and the opportunities we have to be part of positive change that support communities worldwide to thrive.

  6. Andrew Orr says:

    Last time I looked, modern societies require access to four essential products, steel, concrete, plastics and fertilisers, industrial quantities of which are only obtainable from fossil fuels or nuclear energy. The repudiation of both sources of energy in such quantities, in favour of current “ renewables”technologies will always remain a leap in the dark until a future alternative technology is ever available. Until then fossil fuels will remain the very life blood of countries’ economic strength, through energy independence. We need to benefit from what currently is available, reliable and affordable, adapting to all negative consequences, whilst awaiting plausible future alternatives to be developed, for as long as we continue to be wedded to the hypothesis , from “ modelling “, that reduction in the proportion of anthropogenic carbon dioxide will limit increases in the Earth’s temperature, and also reduce the frequency and severity of “ extreme weather events”Such beliefs are continuing to drive energy policies, in spite of the knowledge, from empirical evidence that, over geological time, previous increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide followed, rather than preceded rises in the Earth’s temperature, for which reasons, over which mankind could ever hope to control.
    Mother Nature has her head back, laughing, whilst we choose , instead, to make this quixotic charge at figurative windmills, in our seeking to obtain a sense of control.

  7. Kate Wylie says:

    We need to breakdown the social license that allows the fossil fuel lobby to continue to peddle their product, which is the root cause of the climate crisis and all the destruction it it bringing.

    Climate change is a massive public health issue and needs to treated just like any other public health problem. This includes a ban on advertising.

    Totally support

  8. Max says:

    It seems doctors are somehow able to compartmentalise their contradictory attitudes, which ought otherwise to lead to cognitive dissonance.
    Medical practitioners ought by their very dedication to human health to be oriented first and foremost to maximising human flourishing. Fossils fuels are – and will remain for any foreseeable future – crucial to that flourishing. The energy suicide that is currently being pursued may well be weathered by wealthy First World individuals (like the authors) but will drag back into poverty, destitution and early death perhaps 2 billion of the world’s existing population, with apparently nary a thought from Western doctors who force such policies on them, and who otherwise might even embark on aid trips to assist the overseas poor.
    The risks of climate change as existential threat to humanity are vastly overstated, part given humanity’s proven adaptive ability.
    Doctors need to choose whether they wish to advocate for human flourishing, or for preserving the atmospheric status quo of a water-covered rock in a solar system, an ambition which is most likely futile.

  9. Dr Shaun Watson says:

    A ban on fossil fuel advertising is not the only or definitive means of reducing carbon emissions and consequent climate change. It is however congruent with the medical profession’s action on tobacco advertising – while there are differences there are also striking similarities. Our nation has voted for action on climate change and already there is a Climate Change Act. Given the clear health dimension to the crisis, doctors need to be working on ways of contributing and an ad ban is one amongst many reasonable actions we can take. Stopping advertisements will not stop fossil fuel companies dead in their tracks, but it might be an important step on the path to undermining the legitimacy of new fossil fuel projects that can only make our global and local health worse.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Fossils never become fuel! Fossils are animals and plants that became rock. And rocks don’t become Petrol. Fundamental fallacies perpetuate ignorance. I would never criticise something that keep us living, petroleum for instance. It provides more than fuel. To the best of my knowledge Tobacco doesn’t fuel people – Hence I think this comparison is invalid. Good for laugh.

  11. amir says:

    I do not mind renewable enerygy. The problem is, it is still expensive and most imporatent not much more environmentally friendly.
    If you believe otherwise, you are mislead.

    Also, ironically, this “green energy” requires extensive fosil energy to produce at the manufucturing stage, the carbon neutral offset is questionable and not consistently measured. It also has many by-products that are dangerous to environment.

    Also the idea of promoting green energy by vilifying fossil energy is shallow, short-sighted, laughable and maybe even precarious.

    Who do you think behind this “green energy”? Which companies have deep pocket to build green energy infrastructures? Your homegrown hippies or the same fossil energy company?

  12. Anonymous says:

    Just because we still need to use fossil fuels, does not mean that we need to advertise them.

    Marketing fossil fuels increases use and protects company reputations and outdated business models.

    Advertising natural gas, for example, convinces more people to connect to gas in their homes or to install new gas appliances. This worsens health outcomes and global warming.

    Advertising petrol companies (such as Ampol) is designed to give consumers an emotional tie to their brands and to keep them using petrol without guilt or concern for the consequences. This delays emissions reduction and worsens air pollution.

    Advertising energy companies (such as AGL) as being clean and green is misinformation, because our biggest energy companies never advertise that coal is their main product.

    Energy needs in the third world will increasingly be met by clean energy – not fossil fuels. This is especially important in countries where air pollution is a major cause of premature death, such as Bangladesh and India.

    Also, the fossil fuels used in our appliances, for example, usually does not require those fuels be burned – which is the main problem that needs to be addressed. So, you can advocate for clean air and still use a phone. Once we transition to renewables, we will probably have excess power in Australia – so no problem keeping the hospitals running either.

    The proposed ban does not apply to all mining or resources, just coal, petroleum and methane gas which are responsible for around 89% of global warming.

  13. Anonymous says:

    What about farming, production, marketing, transportation, distribution of consumable alcohol related products ? Those requires massive fossil energy. Such waste of time, energy and resources for something more harmful than beneficial.

    Why stop at tobacco and “fossil energy”?

    Go figure!

  14. George Crisp says:

    This should be a no +brainer.

    Why, when the world’s governments have agreed to phase ot fossil fuels is there any need for advertisements to promote their use?

    It is simply because the fossil fuel industry is doing what is has done for over half a century, like the tobacco industry, and that is to mislead and decieve the public to delay transition.

    This is a health issue because the direct consequences of delay mean illness and death on a massive scale.

    For us to ignore this is a fundamental failing on our role as Doctors.

  15. Dr Catherine Pendrey says:

    Thanks for this thought provoking article. In so many ways fossil fuels are the new smoking, and recognising that in our public health discourse is going to be key to ending the direct harms of fossil fuels through air pollution and averting the worst affects of climate change. It’s well past time for a paradigm shift.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Massive Double standard when fossil fuels still a necessity for daily life. What powers are hospitals and the majority of cars in Australia. Still required to raise living standards in the third World. Yes we should move to more renewables but it won’t happen overnight. Banning Ads achieves little and is a meaningless gesture .

  17. Maryanne Lobo says:

    If you want medical associations to take a pledge to ban fossil fuel advertising first make a promise to yourself to stop using mobile phones, stop all air travel, don’t heat your homes, light your homes with candles and buy an electric car (lets also not forget that car batteries need rare minerals that have to be mined and that dead batteries need to be disposed off and see the plight of Europe scrambling for gas from Russia because their renewable energy systems are not reliable).
    Ban on fossil fuels advertising is nothing but virtue signalling and is not the same as a pledge to ban the advertising of cigarettes.
    I’d rather focus medical education on training students to be good clinicians.
    They can be activists in their own time

  18. Dr Rosemary Stanton says:

    Can we please ad gambling ads to the campaign.

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