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Canada Montreal moves to ban sale of sugary drinks inside city buildings

Canned drinks are seen at a store in Montreal, on Dec. 13, 2017.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Montreal is moving to ban the sale of sugary drinks in all of its municipal buildings and one of the city councillors behind the initiative hopes other communities will follow suit.

A motion that was passed this week aims to prohibit soda, sports drinks and other sweetened beverages from being sold at municipal installations such as administrative buildings, libraries and arenas.

The ban developed from a motion tabled by longtime Coun. Marvin Rotrand.

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In 2014, he introduced one that called on Quebec to give the city the power to tax sugary beverages, but it didn't have consensus. This time, his motion asking Ottawa to come up with a tax on sugary drinks had broader support, with public health in mind.

"This time, everyone was on board with the idea of a national excise tax," Rotrand said. "The feeling at Montreal council was it was legitimate for us to be the first to directly appeal to the government of Canada for this solution."

Sugary drinks are linked to obesity and chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes that go with it.

But the Canadian Beverage Association expressed disappointment with the move, saying the industry wasn't consulted and that studies demonstrate sugar-sweetened beverage calorie consumption has dropped by at least 30 per cent since 2004, even as obesity rates have risen.

The association plans to reach out to Mayor Valerie Plante and council members.

"It's disheartening because it's based on several false narratives," said association president Jim Goetz. "There's real change going on in the beverage landscape in Canada without placing a tax on consumers."

But Rotrand said he believes such a tax, as proposed by the World Health Organization (WHO), would be the best way to reduce consumption.

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While the city hasn't discussed what the tax should be, the WHO recommended in 2016 one of at least 20 per cent.

A copy of Montreal's motion was forwarded to federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor.

Briefing documents obtained by The Canadian Press in 2016 suggested the Finance Department looked at the pros and cons of such a tax, but it didn't figure in the budget.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities said it isnt aware of similar initiatives, which fall to individual cities.

Rotrand has called some colleagues in Canada to see if they will follow suit.

"Elsewhere, it has become a national movement," he noted. "It's not just France and Mexico and Norway. Developing countries like Barbados, Mauritius and Fiji have also adopted the same strategy and it works."

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As it stands, just two of Montreal's 19 boroughs have a ban on soft drinks and a working group will figure out how to gradually implement it in the other districts as contracts with various distributors come due.

The motion passed by a 54-5 margin on Monday evening, with the ban to include sports drinks, energy drinks and flavoured water.

Rotrand said the debate tends to revolve around the collective good and public health on one hand and issues of taxation and individual choice on the other.

Some councillors who opposed the motion expressed concerns about having to introduce a "sugar police," but Rotrand said people will still be able to bring beverages in from outside.

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