OTTAWA — A bill designed to curtail food and beverage marketing aimed at kids is expected to clear legislative hurdles in the new year as the Liberal government tries to combat rising obesity rates.
Bill S-228 was brought forward by former Olympian and now senator Nancy Greene Raine, who says the restrictions will help, though there is no "magic bullet" to address the problem.
"The low-hanging fruit is to prevent the marketing towards kids," Greene Raine said.
"There's hundreds of millions of dollars spent marketing junk food to kids. Why do they do that? Because it works."
Greene Raine's bill has reached second reading in the House of Commons, where it is being shepherded by Liberal MP Doug Eyolfson. It wouldn't come into force until two years after it receives royal assent.
Eyolfson, a medical doctor from Winnipeg, said he is "quite confident" the legislation will pass in 2018, noting it will help ensure foods high in fat, salt and sugar can't be marketed to children — a vulnerable demographic.
"We know that advertising works in all age groups and that when you establish behaviour patterns in children, you basically have behaviour patterns and preferences that will persist throughout life," Eyolfson said.
"The urgency for this is because it is an ongoing public health problem and we need to take steps to address it."
The legislation will not change what products anyone can sell nor is it telling parents what they should or should not feed their kids, he added.
The food industry has raised several objections, including that would it ban marketing to people under the age of 17.
That age limit means an individual can join the military but potentially not watch a food or non-alcoholic beverage ad on Hockey Night in Canada, Canadian Beverage Association President Jim Goetz told a Senate committee in June.
"That is why we cannot support federal legislation that eliminates advertising of products and sponsorship of events directed at adults or are ones that children attend with adults," he said.
"Parents are primarily making choices for their children; we believe parents should retain that right and responsibility."
Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said the age limit will be amended to 13, based on legal precedent in Quebec.
"To be very frank, this was a decision that I made personally because I just really want to make sure that we are not going to be finding ourselves in court and then everything is going to be on pause," Petitpas Taylor said earlier this month in Fredericton.
"I really wanted to make sure that we could hit the ground running and make sure we could make some changes because at the end of the day, we recognize that children are victims of marketing."
The government will also ensure sports sponsorships, such as Timbits hockey, are exempted.
- With files from Kevin Bissett
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Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press