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The Ulez expansion advertisements in London were found to have made false statements about pollution levels throughout the city and inside vehicles, according to a watchdog investigation.
According to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the claims made by Transport for London (TfL) regarding reduced levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) due to the Ulez program were not supported by measurements of air quality taken before and after its implementation, contrary to what listeners of the radio advertisement may assume.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found that TfL’s claim about improved air quality was based on comparing current measurements to a “non-Ulez” scenario, but did not clarify this to listeners and may have mislead them.
The ASA received complaints regarding statements in a second ad from TfL that suggested the majority of deaths caused by air pollution were happening in outer London, despite the fact that this was only based on estimated models.
The ASA stated that the advertisement had the potential to deceive listeners as it failed to clarify the reasoning behind the assertion.
The ASA made a separate decision regarding a statement in a radio advertisement by the Greater London Authority, which claimed that “research shows one of the most polluted areas in London is inside your vehicle.” The ASA deemed this claim to be deceptive.
The ASA confirmed that the evidence presented by the GLA proved that individuals who use cars are exposed to air pollution while inside their vehicle, and that this exposure may be greater compared to other modes of transportation.
Nevertheless, the GLA did not conduct a direct comparison of air pollution levels inside a car in London to other areas within the city. As a result, this claim lacks sufficient evidence and has the potential to mislead those who hear it.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received a combined total of 504 complaints regarding six Transport for London (TfL) ads promoting the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez), and 38 complaints about a Greater London Authority (GLA) ad. Of these, only some were considered valid by the ASA. The ASA clarified that their role is not to determine the accuracy of the Ulez, but rather to evaluate if the claims made in the ads were supported by strong evidence.
The watchdog advised both TfL and the GLA to improve their future claims by closely aligning them with relevant evidence.
The Transport for London (TfL) expressed their disappointment towards the decision made by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). They stated that using modelled scenarios and estimates for scientific analysis is a common practice in both the scientific community and government.
A representative stated: “The ASA did not dispute the validity of the scientific information. Their decision is based on a minor technical detail in certain advertisements. We will consider this when creating the phrasing and citing for future ads.”
The scientific evidence clearly shows the considerable damage of air pollution on human health, and suggests that the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution is greater in outer London compared to inner London.
The strong scientific evaluation shows that the central London Ulez played a crucial role in reducing nitrous oxide emissions by almost half in the original Ulez area.
“The expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone is playing a crucial role in the reduction of air pollution – improving air quality for everyone in London and reducing the harms to health associated with vehicle emissions.”
The spokesperson for the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, stated that the ASA is not disputing the validity of the advertisement and we are certain that it does not contain any false information. The advertisement underwent a thorough review and was approved by policies and industry standards.
Research from international organizations has demonstrated that being exposed to air pollution, even in small amounts, has significant negative effects on human health. We are content with the scientific evidence supporting this statement and the way we have presented it.