The Chilean economy has struggled with rampant inflation and business uncertainty in recent years, with four consecutive years of recession. As a result, one of President Sebastian Pinera’s biggest legislative successes was the enactment of a new law that banned people from purchasing sugary drinks larger than 200 ml and requiring television and radio advertising promoting soda to be removed within two months.
A single glass of Coca-Cola typically contains 11 to 20 grams of sugar — the equivalent of 64 to 265 teaspoons of sugar, or roughly eight teaspoons for the average American. A 20-ounce soda can easily feature 20 to 35 grams of sugar, the equivalent of 10 to 20 teaspoons of sugar. (A 27-ounce soda, while 100 calories, would be five teaspoons of sugar for an average American.)
In a country known for its quality products and developing social roles, the ban, which took effect on Jan. 2, has generated outrage. One estimate from Chile’s Ministry of Health showed that more than one million households were suffering a reduction in disposable income of more than 7 percent.
In a country where more than half of the population is overweight, the new law has been credited by some for providing a “signal” for people to shift their eating habits and “adopt healthier behaviors.” President Pinera plans to appeal the law in a series of hearings scheduled to take place this week, but some analysts say that the ban has proved a success and may be a template for future food and beverage regulations. The popular Chilean newspaper El Mercurio even wrote that the rule “might enable a gastronomic revolution in Chile.”
Some beer and soda marketers reacted to the new law by proposing creative new marketing campaigns to counter the new restrictions. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo both launched “social marketing campaigns” featuring celebrities — including Luciana Barroso, Venezuela’s national soccer player — to promote local beer brands.
Indeed, the choleric outcry over the new law was characterized not by a call for restraint but by a series of extreme reactions, with slogans such as “Unfair to my health” and “Diesel cars break the law of physics” posted on Twitter and the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio publishing a front-page article, widely interpreted as an outright call for disobedience.
It is remarkable that a ban that restricts consumption of one type of product and highlights the glaring inefficiencies of unhealthy products has become such a lightning rod.
Many people blame the new law on Pinera’s more conservative ideology. In a speech, during his inauguration in December 2016, he directly linked the move to his goal of “walking the walk and talking the talk” and complained that the new rule was “unrealistic and unconstitutional.”
The administration has argued that the ban is a protection for children and the young people of Chile and will combat rising obesity rates.
As a first-time parents myself, I can attest to how difficult it can be to limit my child’s intake of sweets and other junk foods. I have a toddler, and I find it tricky to spot an unhealthy snack on a busy grocery store shelf.
During his presidential campaign, Pinera came under fire for the way he handled his daughter’s obesity and subsequently lost support with a large majority of women voters. He may be trying to reverse this trend with the nutrition law.