France to ban unlimited refills of soft drinks

France's latest move to tackle rising obesity levels saw MPs on Wednesday vote to ban French restaurants and fast-food chains from offering free unlimited refills for soft drinks or sodas.

France to ban unlimited refills of soft drinks
Unlimited refills from a soda or soft drinks fountain are to be banned in France. Photo: Flickr

MPs debating France's controversial package of health reforms voted through an amendment to ban the refills late on Wednesday night. 

The ban would apply to all soft drinks or soda “fountains” (see pic above) in places open to the public, including fast food-chains and restaurants.

The law is designed to help tackle obesity levels with sugary soft drinks seen as one of the major causes of the condition.

In the wording of the amendment that was put forward by the centrist UDI MP Arnaud Richard: “It is the role of the law to fix a framework to protect the population against commercial competition which aims to make something free to entice customers and encourage them to consume unhealthy products excessively.”

A ban on unlimited refills has won the backing of France's Health Minister Marisol Touraine.

“This habit is common in other countries and it is increasingly taking hold in France. I understand it can be attractive for young people who are offered unlimited sugary drinks, which contain an excessive amount of sugar or sweeteners,” said Touraine.

In September 2014, the free refill, a must in most American restaurants, was launched in Quick, one of France’s most popular fast-food chains.

It normally involves customers being given an empty cup with their food and they are then free to serve themselves from the “soda fountains”.

While KFC quickly introduced the same scheme, McDonald's in France continued to make customers pay for their drinks at the till.  

The list of soft drinks that the ban would cover is to be published at a later date by ministerial decree, whilst the controversial health bill must also pass through the Senate before it becomes law.

'France must be an example to the world'

France's new national nutrition programme aims to reduce children’s consumption of more than half a glass of fizzy drinks, by 25 percent. The programme stresses that “water is the only essential drink” and should be made freely available.

France has long been at the forefront of banning products it considered harmful for the health, especially in schools. 

In 2004, vending-machines were banned schools and only machines selling items of fruit and water were allowed to be in education premises.  

Then in 2011 the government banned ketchup from school cafeterias and said chips or French fries could only be served up once a week.

“France must be an example to the world in the quality of its food, starting with its children,” said the then agriculture and food minister Bruno Le Maire at the time.

Figures from the market researcher Euromonitor in 2011 showed the French consume fewer soft drinks per person than any other country in Western Europe apart from Portugal.

While in the UK people drank an average of 84 litres of fizzy drinks per year, the average in France was only 45 litres. 

The Americans consume four times as many soft drinks than the French, with an average of 170 litres a year.

In 2012, former New-York mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to prohibit the sale of soda in containers larger than half a litre but the Supreme Court ruled the plan unconstitutional.

by Chloe Farand





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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.