PHAI Online - The Public Health Advocacy Institute




Posts Tagged ‘children’

Stop & Shop Responds to PHAI’s Demands to Prevent Sales of Scratch Tickets to Kids

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

In 2014 and 2015, the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) conducted testing to determine whether kids could purchase lottery tickets from the vending machines located in a number of area supermarkets.  At markets in Cambridge, Somerville, and Arlington, Massachusetts, a teenage tester was easily able to purchase lottery tickets in every attempt.

Massachusetts law expressly prohibits the sale of lottery tickets to “any person under age eighteen.” Yet the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling reports that over two-thirds of teenage boys (aged 14-17) have gambled in the past year, and over half of teenage girls have done so. About a third of these children gambled by playing lottery games.

somerville stop and shop 8-1-15

Stop & Shop lottery vending machine with scanner in Somerville, MA

On March 10, 2015, PHAI sent Stop & Shop a legal demand under Massachusetts’ consumer protection law, on behalf of the father of the teenage purchaser, Cambridge City Councilor Craig Kelley, and on behalf of the national non-profit Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation, seeking steps to prevent children from using the lottery ticket vending machines in the company’s stores. According to the demand letter, selling the tickets to minors is an unfair and deceptive sales practice prohibited by law.

The action drew media attention and led to an editorial in the Boston Globe urging that the problem be addressed.  Representatives from Stop & Shop responded by working with the Massachusetts Lottery Commission to activate drivers’ license scanners in the lottery ticket machines, which operate to confirm that a lottery ticket purchaser is at least 18 years old before the machine will vend a ticket.  Stop & Shop informed PHAI last week that all of its lottery ticket vending machines would have these protections in place by the end of July, 2015.

PHAI staff spot checked Stop & Shop machines in 3 counties and found that its machines will, in fact, not operate without first scanning an adult driver’s license.

Cambridge City Councilor Kelley said he was pleased to see some progress made. “It’s a real problem,” Kelley said. “As a father and as a city councilor, I was truly shocked at how easy it was for a kid to buy tickets from these machines.”

Mark Gottlieb, executive director of PHAI, noted that “While Stop & Shop’s efforts to quickly address the problem are laudable, the vast majority of lottery ticket vending machines in the state don’t have driver’s license scanners. This includes many places like bowling alleys and convenience stores that are frequented by kids.” Gottlieb added that “we will continue to work to prevent sales of scratch tickets to kids through vending machines as a public health policy measure.”

Is McDonald’s Selling What It Advertises to Kids?

Monday, October 7th, 2013

by Cara Wilking, J.D.

Since 2008, national advertising for McDonald’s Happy Meals has not depicted soda as per a self-regulatory pledge made to the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI). In a recent pledge with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, McDonald’s stated that it will not display soda company logos in the children’s section of its restaurant menu boards or otherwise promote or feature soda, but soda will remain on the children’s menu. This seems to be a huge public admission that McDonald’s has no plans to actually take soda off of its children’s menu. Almost five years after McDonald’s began implementation of its CFBAI pledge its in-store children’s menu offerings still do not match the Happy Meal combinations it advertises to the public.

In July of 2011, I wrote about the fact that McDonald’s CFBAI pledge had not translated into its healthier options becoming its most popular or commonly sold options (a fact later confirmed by McDonald’s). At that time, meal combinations with french fries and a 12 oz. soda were the most popular Happy Meal combinations. Two years later, soda is still on the children’s menu. In order to truly improve the nutritional profile of the meals it actually sells, McDonald’s needs to do the same thing with beverages that it did with its french fries. Change the default. When a parent orders a Happy Meal the clerk should ask, “milk, apple juice or water.” Its CGI pledge does not accomplish that and evinces a potentially huge disconnect between what McDonald’s advertises and what it is actually selling to children and their parents.


The Cost of McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

By Cara Wilking, Staff Attorney

The passage of San Francisco’s Healthy Food Incentives Ordinance and McDonald’s recent decision to “comply” with the law by charging 10 cents in order to be able to include toys with meals that do not meet minimal nutritional criteria has engendered a lot of public debate. The following table summarizes information from a 2005 Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board decision with Happy Meal cost information from the period between 1999 and 2001:

Toy, Food, Condiment & Paper Costs to McDonald’s Restaraunts of Massachusetts (1999-2001) in US Dollars


Hamburger Happy Meal

Cheese-burger Happy Meal

4-piece McNugget Happy Meal

Happy Meal Toy Only

Toy cost





Food cost





Condiment cost



0.0476 (average)


Paper cost





Total cost





Menu Price





For the periods covered, McDonald’s reported that it paid its toy supplier 43 cents per toy. The total cost to McDonald’s for the toy and packaging of the Happy Meals was greater than the cost of food for each Happy Meal type. McDonald’s included a toy with every Happy Meal and sold the toys separately for a retail price of $1.69. The company  noted that it had a dedicated key on its registers in order to process separate toy sales.

In an issue advertisement run by McDonald’s explaining its 10 cent Happy Meal toy plan, the company wrote: “we feel a responsibility to our customers – including parents…who would like to have the option of purchasing…[a toy] separately for their kids.” In reality, prior to the ordinance all customers, including parents, had the option to purchase a toy separate from a Happy Meal. To comply with the letter and the spirit of San Francisco’s ordinance, McDonald’s could have stopped putting toys in with Happy Meals that did not meet nutritional criteria. Customers wanting to buy a toy separately, including parents, would then be treated as they always have been—rung up using the dedicated register key and charged the retail price of the toy.

The good news is that, as Michele Simon points out, there is an easy legal fix to the 10 cent toy strategy. In the short term, McDonald’s response amounts to an incredible missed opportunity to break away from a business model whereby the inedible portion of its children’s meals cost more to produce than the edible portion. The cost spent on toys could be spent to improve the nutritional profile of its children’s menu. The result could have been less trash in the form of discarded toys, a boon to fruit and vegetable producers all over the United States who supply McDonald’s, and, most importantly, healthier kids.


Copyright 2003-2015 Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) at
Northeastern University School of Law