During the first hour of debate in the House of Commons on December 12, 2017, Bill S-228 was amended to redefine the age of protection from under 17 years to under 13 years of age, leaving teenagers exposed to the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages.
Via the bill sponsor, Doug Eyolfson, the Canadian Health Minister, Ginette Petitpas Taylor proposed that amending the age to under 13 years would make the bill more likely to withstand a court challenge, ensuring protection is provided to this demographic of Canadian children. It would also allow time to assess the ability to protect teens through subsequent actions.
The federal government has promised to review the definition of children within 5 years of the amended legislation taking force, and to monitor the effects of marketing to youth.
The Coalition’s Position
The Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition continues to support the federal government’s efforts to move forward with strong restrictions on commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to kids. While we feel strongly that a higher age threshold is warranted, we are optimistic that the proposed legislative review process will provide the means for the government to to develop an evidence-based case that will extend protection to youth 16 years and under, and to craft a follow-up bill to protect teens without jeopardizing the legislation protecting those under 13 years of age. However, it is the Coalition’s strong belief that the review period be shortened to three years from the proposed five years. We feel that there is adequate flexibility in the wording of the amendment to allow for this change in review time period.
It remains our position, that all children need protection from unhealthy marketing, including those 16 years and younger. While youth over the age of 12 generally understand that advertising is intended to sell them something, or change their behaviour, increasing evidence suggests that older children and teens are vulnerable to marketing. More so, teens are exposed to a greater volume of food and beverage advertising than younger children, and are targets of digital and social media marketing techniques that are difficult for even adults to recognize.
There is substantial evidence that marketing shapes the behaviours and habits of teens. In fact, there is strong agreement amongst leading Canadian pediatric, medical organizations, and opinion-leaders that the impact of food and beverage marketing is real, significant, and indeed harmful to adolescent development. This exposure shapes behaviours that carry forward into adulthood, leading to lifelong unhealthy habits and increased risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, hypertension, obesity and stroke.
Our Coalition stands in full support of Bill S-228 and Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy. This is an opportune time in Canadian history within the current government’s mandate to pass legislation that restricts the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages. Any further attempt to weaken Bill S-228 must be resisted, and instead meaningful provisions enacted to improve the bill within 5 years.
Our Coalition stands ready to work with the government to present a strong case that will extend protection to youth 16 years and under during the post-legislative review period.