Pierre Valois has a position that many parents would envy. As chief lawyer for the Consumer Protection Bureau of the Canadian province of Quebec, Mr. Valois enforces a provincial ban on advertising to children.
Kids' shows haven't disappeared in Quebec; they simply run ads for adult products instead of sugary cereals and toys. ``It is very popular legislation,'' says Valois in a telephone interview. ``The industry is as powerful here as everywhere. The government was just more sensitive on the social part.''
The Quebec law provided a rare laboratory to study the impact of TV ads on kids. Children in English-speaking homes still get ads from American TV that come across the border. So it is possible to compare them with their French-speaking counterparts.
A recent study at McGill University in Montreal found that the English-speaking kids have more children's cereals at home and are much more aware of the toys manufacturers are promoting.
As in the United States, advertisers say such a law violates their right to freedom of speech. Valois counters that the real issue is parental authority. ``Suppose someone comes to your door and says he wants to talk to your child to sell him a [toy],'' he says. ``Surely you will say, `Talk to me.'''
The ban simply restores this ability of parents to stand watch at their own doors, he says. ``Parents are much more free to give the toys they want to give to their children.''
The ban doesn't include so-called ``program-length commercials'' - cartoon shows such as G.I. Joe that are really ads for toys. It is hard to write a law that gets at these without also banning a show such as Sesame Street, whose characters later became toys. ``We can live with it,'' Valois says in his Gallic accent. ``We do our best in the world so it's a better world.''