This special issue of the HPJA focuses on ethics in the context of health promotion practice. This editorial takes a narrower focus: the issue of Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) approval for health promotion research, evaluation and quality assurance (QA). We will focus on three papers in the special issue: each argue that those working in health promotion should consider ethics from the very beginning of their research, evaluation and/or QA activities. The first paper, by Ainsley Newson and Wendy Lipworth, is entitled ‘Why should ethics approval be required before publication of health promotion research?’ In it they argue that ‘journals should not, in general, publish articles with no ethics approval’, even if the findings are interesting or apparently important. The second paper, by Peter Sainsbury, is entitled ‘Development and oversight of ethical health promotion quality assurance and evaluation activities involving human participants’. In it he argues that the boundaries between research, evaluation and QA are not clear, and that all of these activities should be underpinned by research ethics principles and focus on the central issue of potential risk to participants. The final paper, a commentary by Judy Allen, reflects on the ethical dimensions of health promotion research and evaluation from the inside of an HREC.