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City Leaders Calling For Warning Labels For Sugary Drinks

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The debate over sugary drinks continues to heat up in Baltimore. City leaders are pushing for businesses to warn customers before they buy sugar-sweetened beverages.

The city's health commissioner calls it an epidemic and says the drinks are a key contributor to childhood obesity.

WJZ's Rick Ritter has more on Tuesday's hearing, and reaction from both sides.

Hundreds packed council chambers to discuss the issue. Baltimore could become the first jurisdiction along the East Coast to require warning labels for sugary drinks. Not everyone is on board.

Served at nearly every restaurant and stocked on shelves from store to store, Baltimore City leaders are calling the overuse of sugary drinks an epidemic.

"Sugar has an impact on our children's bodies," said Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, 7th District.

City officials say the impact has spiraled out of control.

"I have eight-year-olds who weigh 200 pounds, I have 15-year-olds who suffer from diabetes," said Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner.

Hundreds packed council chambers for a hearing on Tuesday, as leaders push to pass legislation to require the following warning label for all sugar-sweetened beverages sold across the city: "WARNING: DRINKING BEVERAGES WITH ADDED SUGAR CONTRIBUTES TO TOOTH DECAY, OBESITY, AND DIABETES. THIS MESSAGE IS FROM THE BALTIMORE CITY HEALTH DEPARTMENT."

"This is generations of our children's future that are at stake," said Wen.

The effort has drawn backlash that some can't seem to fathom.

"It is simply to let people know the impact of the sugary drinks, come on now," said Rep. Cummings.

Restaurants and business owners across the city are already firing back, saying warning labels for sugary drinks mean more money out of their pockets.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland cites that city businesses are "still struggling to overcome declines" in sales "since last year's unrest."

A 60-year staple of Baltimore, Maria Vaccaro with Vaccaro's Italian Pastries echoes that statement.

"It's going to cost us a lot of money to reprint menus and hang signs for customers coming in," she said.

An extra burden for a mom and pop shop.

"It is a cost, and every dollar does count," she said. "It's like more and more things keep piling on the business owners."

Nothing was voted on Tuesday, meaning another hearing is likely before council members vote on the bill.

City officials say 1 of every 3 school-age children in Baltimore are either overweight or obese.

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