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In an effort to stave off European Union legislation, soft-drink marketers in Europe have pledged to stop marketing to children under 12 and to limit soft-drink sales in schools.

Markos Kyprianou, the EU's health and consumer-affairs commissioner, warned advertisers a year ago to develop self-regulatory measures to stop advertising junk food and help combat child obesity or face tough new laws. Now marketers are offering commitments to what EU regulators describe as a "platform on health, diet and physical activity" that involves food companies, health organizations and the media.

The European drive to compel marketers has implications for the U.S., said Stefan Loeke, managing director of the Brussels-based World Federation of Advertisers. "Regulators are looking to each other to see what approaches are being considered." He said that the U.S. will take part in a May event in Brussels to discuss best practices to address the obesity issue.

Last week UNESDA, the Union of European Beverage Associations, delivered its commitment to the EU platform. The group, whose members include Coca-Cola Co., Pepsi-Cola Co., Cadbury Schweppes European Beverages and Unilever, said members won't aim marketing communication in broadcast, print or online at children under 12. They generally won't have vending machines in primary schools, and will offer a full range of beverages in vending machines in secondary schools, increasing the number of low- or no-calorie drinks, UNESDA said. In Europe a number of marketers, and some countries through national legislation, have already adopted their own rules about advertising to children. Parts of Scandinavia ban advertising to children altogether. Coca- Cola two years ago said the company would not advertise to children under 12 in Europe. In the U.S., both Coke and Pepsi have long held policies restricting marketing soft-drinks to children under 12. Facing pressure for targeting kids in schools, the marketers last year tweaked polices on what products could be sold in on-campus vending machines. Marketers and regulators are watching France, where a new law this year requires food marketers to either add a health message to ads for any manufactured food or beverage except water, or pay a tax equivalent to 1.5% of their annual ad budget for a national institute to do campaigns to promote healthier eating. The four rotating health messages must take up 7% of the screen or other surface, including in-store displays.


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