Mon | Dec 17, 2018

Sugary drink ban will hit school-gate vendors, too

Published:Wednesday | December 5, 2018 | 12:07 AMLivern Barrett and Jodi-Ann Gilpin/Gleaner Writers
Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton
Howard Mitchell
Veronica Gaynor, principal of Iris Gelly Primary School, with one of her pupils
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The Government's ban on the sale of overly sweetened beverages will also apply to vendors operating on the perimeter of early childhood, primary-, and high-school compounds, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has said.

The war on sugar is being waged in light of grave concern over high rates of lifestyle diseases and disorders, particularly obesity, among preteens and adolescents.

"All the concessionaires on the campus, and also the vendors on the outskirts of the gates," will have to comply with the new stipulation, which takes effect in the new year, said the minister.

Tufton said he was amassing an army of watchdogs, including 100 public-health dieticians and nutritionists, as well as guidance counsellors and principals, to monitor, enforce and encourage behavioural change. But he admitted that there would be resistance.

"Legislatively, there is no divide on the issue. There has been significant consultation leading up to the announcement. ... The monitoring mechanism is being finalised, Tufton told The Gleaner last night.

"We expect some deviant behaviour, as clearly it is easier to enforce on the compound, failing which, there are other options." 

With reluctant acceptance is how Howard Mitchell, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), has reacted to the Interim Guidelines for Beverages in Schools report that was tabled in Parliament yesterday by Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton.

The report of the five-year plan outlined that:

- As of January 1, 2019, beverages containing more than six grams of sugar per 100 milli-litres will no longer be allowed at public educational institutions

- Anything over five grams per 100 milli-litres will be prohibited as of January 1, 2020

- Anything over four grams per 100 milli-litres, prohibited as of 2020

- Anything over two and half grams per 100 milli-litres, prohibited as of 2023

Beverages that were recommended to be banned from being sold or served to students zero to 18 years old in and around early childhood, primary and secondary-level educational institutions, include:

- Carbonated drinks (such as regular sodas)

- Fruit drinks

- Sports drinks

- Energy drinks

- Sweetened waters

- Coffee and tea beverages above the maximum sugar concentration.

Those that will be permitted include:

- Plain water

- Unsweetened flavoured and infused water

- Unsweetened juices

- Unsweetened coconut water

- Unsweetened milk or milk products

- Unsweetened milk substitutes and milk substitute products.

ACCEPTED BUT WITH RESERVATION

Mitchell said they have been in discussion with stakeholders since June of this year and will continue to monitor the issue.

"My impression is that the ban has been accepted but with reservation. We'll have to see whether it will be enforced and how. Generally, the impression I have from my membership is that we accept that something has to be done about sugar consumption," said the PSOJ president.

The usual question will be that of implementation and all we can do is wait and see."

In commenting on the development, Veronica Gaynor, principal of Iris Gelly Primary School, said it is a welcomed initiative but should be implemented on a phased basis. She also said that persons' social economic status is a huge factor.

"The children have become more attentive to what they drink, but one of things is that our children are very poor, so it might not be a tuck shop thing because they buy from the vendors. What they do is buy the drink frozen because it lasts longer," said Gaynor.

"Our children cannot afford the unsweetened juices so bag juice will always be an option."

The ban also covers companies and groups involved in the distribution of beverages to public schools, including canteen operators, vendors and teachers.

Tufton said the restrictions on sugar-sweetened beverages will be applicable during school hours and special school activities, adding that beverages brought from home are not included in the ban.

He said the ministries of health and education are working together to implement plans to sensitise and train parents and vendors to ensure the long-term sustainability of the initiative.

The minister acknowledged that while there is support for the guidelines from the private sector, there were concerns about the timing of its implementation.