Law · International norms

WHO guideline: Restricting digital marketing in the context of tobacco, alcohol, food and beverages, and breast-milk substitutes


This WHO guideline addresses restrictions on marketing, including digital marketing, in the contexts of tobacco and nicotine products, alcohol, unhealthy foods and beverages, and breast-milk substitutes.



The WHO identified a gap among its guidances on marketing restrictions of tobacco and nicotine products, alcohol, unhealthy foods and beverages, and breast-milk substitutes: how to restrict digital marketing (page 1). This publication aims to fill the gap on this matter constructing a cross-cutting approach to deal with the advent of digital media and new marketing techniques.

However, this publication does not invalidate previous guidances on restricting marketing nor does it suggests that Member States should regulate digital marketing above other traditional medias. On the contrary, the WHO guidance on digital marketing seeks “to assist Member States to address the reality that restrictions on digital marketing often lag behind restrictions on other media” (page 3). In this sense, the publication is primarily intended for government officials involved in designing or implementing marketing restrictions (page 2).


This documents presents different policy options that can be relevant for each Member State “depending
on domestic circumstances, including priorities and capacities” (page 2). The methodology to recommend these policies is based on comparative legal analyses and legal reasoning by analogy. Even though the evidence of the risks posed by digital marketing to health is not evaluated in this document, the WHO has an extensive analysis on this matter provided in other documents that are attached here as supporting material.

Possibilities of regulation and enforcement

Digital marketing regulation involves different laws and multiple government agencies to enforce them. This intricate oversight needs comprehensive legislative coordination to ensure cohesive and effective governance. In this sense, the WHO highlights that legislation should:

  • have a broad scope to cover digital marketing as well as further innovations;
  • define a jurisdictional scope for restrictions or prohibitions to enable a proper enforcement within that scope (p. 32-33);
  • establish mechanisms to monitore online environments, placing disclosure obligations and the authority for enforcement (p. 48-50);
  • restrict targeting techniques in specific contexts where marketing is permitted (page 39-42).


For the purposes of FULL, the guideline brings some important definitions:

  • Marketing: already defined throughout other WHO’s documents (page 4-5). However, the document states three essential elements to define it (page 5-6):
    • any form of commercial communication;
    • the aim, effect, or likely effect is the increase in recognition, appeal, and/or consumption of a product, service, or brand;
    • Advertising, product normalization, or brand recognition.
  • Digital Marketing: refers to marketing distributed in a digital form, such as display on websites, apps, social media platforms, games and films, and accessible through digital devices such as desktops, laptops and mobile phones (page 6).

At last, this guideline highlights that restricting marketing to ensure public health is a human rights measure to guarantee the right to health. This approach has to be considered to defend the restriction enforcement when it faces challenges. In this case, the best solution should be the application of the proportionality test (page 68-69).