San Francisco officials vote on sugary drink warnings

Warnings would be required on ads for sugary beverages under new legislation approved Tuesday, June 9, in San Francisco.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved legislation Tuesday that will require health warnings to be placed on advertising for sugar-sweetened beverages.

The aim is to educate consumers about the potential health problems associated with consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Under the legislation, the warning on the advertisements will read: "WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco."

In addition to the warning, which was modeled off of the U.S. Surgeon General's health warning placed on all tobacco cigarettes since 1966, the legislation also places a moratorium on sugar-sweetened beverage advertisements on city property and prevents city spending on such beverages.

Supporters of the legislation argued that soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages are major contributors to diabetes. They said the public deserves to know the associated health risks when considering their purchases.

One of the bill's authors, Supervisor Scott Wiener, said that despite a $10 million lobbying effort by the soda industry that helped defeat a proposed San Francisco soda tax in the 2014 election, he is pleased that this new legislation was unanimously supported.

In the November election, 56 percent of city voters voted for a two-cents-per-ounce tax on sodas and other sugary beverages distributed in San Francisco, but the special measure needed two-thirds approval to pass. A similar proposal for a penny-an-ounce soda tax was approved in neighboring Berkeley, California.

Wiener said a 12-ounce can of soda, on average, contains ten teaspoons of sugar. He said he hopes that this legislation will inform citizens that, "these are not just harmless products that taste good, that these are products that are making people sick."

Wiener said these drinks are "fueling the explosion of type 2 diabetes" and that education is the only way to reverse that trend.

Lisa Katic, a registered dietician and a consultant for the American Beverage Association, testified against the legislation, arguing that the warning label unfairly targets the beverage industry and ignores the bigger health issues at hand, which she said include access to nutritional guidance and lack of exercise in people's routines.

Katic said she doesn't think warning labels will create the desired impact and that instead, legislators should focus on educating people about how many calories they need each day based on their activity level.

But the supervisors and numerous medical professionals at the hearing maintained that the warning labels would help educate people about the link between sugar-sweetened beverages and diabetes, obesity, tooth decay and other related illnesses.

Following the vote, Bob Achermann, the executive director of the beverage industry group CalBev, criticized supervisors for singling out one industry and one type of product.

"Today's vote not only erodes the freedom of speech in San Francisco -- especially for local businesses and beverage companies -- it also misinforms the public about what causes diabetes and obesity by unjustifiably singling out beverages," Achermann said in a statement.

He said CalBev plans "to explore all options regarding today's vote." Roger Salazar, a spokesman for CalBev, said the organization might sue to block the ordinance.

This legislation makes San Francisco the first U.S. jurisdiction to require health warnings on soda advertisements and to ban soda advertisements on publicly owned property, according to the supervisors.

In 2012, New York City officials approved a ban on sales of sugary drinks over 16 ounces in restaurants and other venues, but the measure was overturned in court before it could take effect.