December 12th, 2003
Maine Students to Lose Candy, Soda Machines
By Tom Bell
Portland Press Herald
Soda and candy suppliers have agreed to remove their products from vending machines in every public school in Maine.
Existing state rules prevent junk-food sales during school hours, but a deal struck between industry lobbyists and the state Department of Education would ban junk food at all times and also remove soft-drink advertisements from school campuses, including scoreboards. The ban would go into effect next year.
The agreement allows vending machines that sell junk food and soda to remain in rooms that are off-limits to students, said David Stockford, a state education official who worked on the deal.
The Education Department plans to issue an administrative order to enforce the ban, and no legislation would be needed. The rule change, though, still requires public hearings, which will occur in January or February. Stockford said he does not expect any organized opposition because the industry supports the measure.
The Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee last week voiced support for the deal. The committee unanimously voted to kill a bill proposed by Rep. Sean Faircloth, D-Bangor, that would have banned soda and sweets from school grounds.
The soft-drink industry has long opposed bills that would eliminate soda from school vending machines, arguing that the state should not legislate eating habits. The Washington-based Center for Consumer Freedom, a coalition of restaurant owners and food and beverage suppliers, also has opposed state bans on food sales.
The soft-drink industry contributes heavily to candidates in both parties and had the votes to kill Faircloth’s bill, said Rep. Glenn Cummings, House chair of the Education Committee.
But he suspects that the industry negotiated an administrative ban because it did not want the bad publicity that would result from killing the bill.
“It would have left a bad taste in the public’s mouth if the industry had outright fought the bill,” he said.
Cummings noted that bottled-water sales are growing more rapidly than soda sales.
Representatives of the soft-drink or candy industries could not be reached.
The agreement defines junk food as food that has minimal nutritional value and provides less than 5 percent of the daily allowance of eight nutrients per serving or 100 calories. The nutrients are iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, calcium and iron.
That includes soda, but not drinks that contain fruit juices. It also includes chewing gum, hard candy, lollipops, mints, sugar wafers, jelly beans, candy -coated popcorn and gumdrops.
Last spring, an education committee roundtable, which included teachers and students, recommended that the department ban vending machines that dispense soda and unhealthy snacks. Nutritionists have argued that banning soda and candy in schools would help fight childhood obesity.
Several school districts already ban soda and junk food, including Lewiston, Old Orchard Beach and SAD 61, which includes Casco, Naples and Bridgton.
Most schools receive money from soft-drink companies, both for vending machines and advertising.
Nearly all U.S. high schools have vending machines selling junk food, according to a 2000 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But state lawmakers around the country are pushing for limits. California and New York City recently passed bans on junk food in school vending machines.
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