Bill Would Ban Pop and Junk Food in Public Vending Machines
April 9, 2013 — If you want to buy a Coke or a Snickers bar from a state Capitol vending machine, you’d better get yours while you can.
If House Bill 3403 becomes law, those and other products like fatty potato chips or whole milk would be off-limits at any vending machine in Oregon public buildings.
“Vending machines are stocked with foods that contribute to the obesity epidemic,” said Nancy Becker of the Oregon Public Health Institute. “Nutrition standards for vending machines are a win-win proposition. Workers and clients get better food to choose from, vendors get guidance and technical expertise to determine what products are suitable.”
House Bill 3403 requires that all food and drinks sold in public vending machines meet strict specifications. Snacks may not be more than 200 calories and may contain no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat or sugar.
A typical two-ounce Snickers bar has 280 calories. The popular candy bar also fails the fat and sugar test, with 43 percent of its calories from fat and 41 percent from sugar.
With the exception of milk and juice, drinks can have no more than 40 calories — effectively prohibiting any regular pop without artificial sweeteners. Advocates of the restrictions held up a bottle of Gatorade as a favorable replacement, but a 12-ounce bottle of Gatorade has 75 calories — entirely from sugar, and it fails the health test. A same-size can of Coke has 140 calories, all from sugar.
Healthy Choices Hard to Find
It can be hard to find any healthy selections in vending machines stocked with greasy chips and candy bars, as well as soda pop loaded with empty calories.
State vending machines in Oregon are operated by licensed blind vendors through the Oregon Commission for the Blind. Archana Thapa-Campbell, an operations manager at the Oregon Department of Justice, said she had tried to work with the blind vendors to restock their machines with healthier options, but could only get them to stock a third of the items with health snacks and drinks.
“Unhealthy vending machine snacks and sugary beverages are direct obstacles for public employees working hard to lose weight,” said Thapa-Campbell.
But blind vendor Lewanda Miranda of Prineville testified at the House Health Committee that she has voluntarily stocked 40 percent of her machines with items that meet the health standards, only to end up throwing them away.
“That’s the product that doesn’t move,” said Miranda, who stocks machines in Eastern Oregon. “People talk healthy but they don’t eat healthy.”
Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, sponsored HB 3403, explaining she wanted to incrementally replace current vending machine offerings with gradually healthier options, such as baked chips for fried chips and small cookies instead of big ones.
“Too often vending machines only offer foods high in sugar, salt and fat,” Keny-Guyer said. She said that she would love to find a way to work with the blind vendors to find a mutually agreeable solution.
Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, has scheduled a work session for April 15, indicating he wants a vote on HB 3403 to move it either to the full House or the Joint Committee on Ways & Means.
The bill does nothing about the salt content of vending items, which are often loaded with sodium-based preservatives. A 12-ounce bottle of V8 vegetable juice, while high in vitamins A and C, has 720 milligrams of sodium, or 30 percent of the recommended daily allotment.
Granola bars, which were pitched to replace candy bars, have about 50 percent of their calories from fat and sugar. They have about 100 to 200 calories each, and most brands could be offered under HB 3403, except Clif bars, which are high in fat.
Blind Vendors Fight Choice Restrictions
HB 3403 goes beyond offering government employees healthy options to cajoling them and others who frequent public buildings to cut calories by removing the temptation in the workplace, treating these consumers the same as the children who have already lost their candy and soda pop privileges from vending machines in public schools.
The blind vendors who oversee the state’s vending machines said their businesses would be devastated if they are required to sell only healthy food.
“This came out of the woodwork. We see this as a catastrophe for the blind vendors.” said Randy Hauth, a blind vendor who testified at the House Health Committee wearing sunglasses and carrying a cane.
Hauth wrote in his testimony that he would expect a 40 percent loss in sales, which would equal a loss of $2 million in revenues, or $200,000 in profits for the blind vendors.
The legislative fiscal office agreed with the expected losses, citing results in Oregon hospitals and schools that have removed the junk food items from their machines and saw reductions of 40 to 60 percent in sales.
Blind vendors collect about $500,000 in profits annually, operating machines on public property. The Oregon Commission for the Blind, which could potentially lose $30,000 in proceeds and $120,000 in federal matching funds, in addition to the losses of the vendors.
“Every job a blind person can have is near and dear to the heart,” Hauth said, noting the unemployment rate for the blind is 70 percent. He added that the blind vendors had successfully fought off an executive order from former Gov. Ted Kulongoski that would have required all sales to meet the health restrictions.
Health advocate Kasandra Griffin, a lobbyist for Upstream Public Health, disputed the fiscal office’s analysis, citing results in the Los Angeles suburb of Baldwin Park that showed sales rebounded after initial losses as people became used to the healthier vending machines.
“If I am hungry at my desk, or at a recreation center, I walk down the hall to the temptation of the vending machine and then I am almost certain to buy what is there,” Griffin said.
“If the choices are unhealthy, I sabotage my own fitness goals because hunger makes our resolve weaker. If the choices are all healthy, however, I will pick a sparkling juice drink or a granola bar instead of a large cookie and soda,” Griffin added.
In addition to banning pop and limiting junk food, HB 3403 bans whole milk from public vending machines, limiting consumers to soy, skim or low-fat options.
Vending machines selling coffee could provide sugar, but not cream — again, only soy, skim or low-fat milk could be added for people who doctor their coffee.
In California, both San Francisco and several smaller communities have put a complete ban on vending items that don’t meet health standards, but many communities, including Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Jose have compromised and only required that 35 to 50 percent of the vending items be healthy.
According to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, San Francisco’s ban also limits the amount of artificially sweetened diet sodas in vending machines, which is not in the current draft of HB 3403.
To reach reporter Christopher David Gray, write to [email protected].