Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.

Rule 18.17 states that “Marketing communications may give factual information about product contents, including comparisons, but must not make any health, fitness or weight-control claims.

The only permitted nutrition claims are “low-alcohol”, “reduced alcohol” and “reduced energy” and any claim likely to have the same meaning for the consumer”.

The starting point when assessing an ad under this rule will be whether a health or nutrition claim is being made. For example, words such as “light” or “lite” may in context clearly relate only to flavour or colour, and not imply a nutritional benefit from consuming the product. In these circumstances rule 18.17 would not apply.

Health claims for alcoholic products are prohibited and the types of nutrition claim that can be made for an alcoholic product are limited. Nutrition claims are only acceptable if referring to low-alcohol levels, the reduction of the alcohol content, or the reduction of energy content. Nutrition claims which have the same meaning to the consumer as the permitted claims stated in rule 18.17, such as “light” (if referring to reduced alcohol content) or “reduced calories” may be acceptable, provided they comply with the relevant criteria for use.

Factual comparisons relating to permitted nutrition claims may be made either “internally”, between an advertiser’s products (for example, if the calorie content has been reduced or is different from another product in the range) or between the advertiser’s product and competitor products. In order not to mislead, the reduction or difference should be significant. In the case of a reduced energy claim, the energy value should be reduced by at least 30% and should be accompanied by a clear statement of the number of calories per unit of alcohol. If a comparison is made, the comparison must take into account a range of foods in the same category, and the difference in energy value must be stated.

Numerical statements of calorie or carbohydrate content should not be preceded by words such as “only”, as these are likely to be taken as making an unacceptable “low energy” claim. In 2009, under the 11th edition of the CAP Code the ASA considered that an advertiser had breached the Code by referring to their drink as containing “only 92 calories” at the time the ad ran the rule above was not yet in place and the ad was found to be in breach of the CAP Code on the basis that it did not meet the requirements of a low energy claim. A low energy claim cannot be made for a liquid containing more than 20 kcal/100 ml and because the advertised drink contained 26.5 kcal/100 ml, while the ad implied it was low in energy, it was found to be in breach (WM Magners, 25 March 2009). Under the 12th edition of the CAP Code, whether or not the product meets the requirements of low energy claims would not be assessed because alcohol ads are prohibited from making such claims.

If a trade mark or brand name on its own implies an impermissible nutrition claim for an alcoholic drink, the advertisement should include a related permissible nutrition claim as described above. Trade marks or brand names cannot be used if they may be construed as making a health claim for an alcoholic drink.

Claims such as “reduced sugar”, “half sugar” or “reduced/low carbohydrate” are not acceptable, since they are not included in the list of permitted nutrition claims in rule 18.17.

The Department of Health has issued guidance regarding the various legal frameworks which underpin this rule which is available here (see in particular Section 3.3):

More on