Federal Court Blocks S.F. Soda Warning Labels

Judges found the mandatory warning to be misleading.

The tobacco-style health warning labels extended to sugary drinks in San Francisco is having a tough day.

A panel of three judges from San Francisco’s 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said today that the 2015 law hindered soda advertisers’ right to free speech, Bay City News reports. The panel ordered a preliminary injunction to block the law.

Two of the judges on the panel said the warning was misleading because it failed to explain that soda is not the only source of sugar or clarify that overconsumption of sugar is harmful.

“By focusing on a single product, the warning conveys the message that sugar-sweetened beverages are less healthy than other sources of added sugars and calories,” Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote. “This message is deceptive in light of the current state of research on this issue.”

The unanimously-passed law required that the warning message — that added sugars contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay — cover 20 percent of space on the ad or label for a sugary drink. There wasn’t a law like it in the country at the time.

The message 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.”

Washington, D.C.’s American Beverage Association challenged the law, as well as the California Retailer’s Association and the California State Outdoor Advertising Association. 

City Attorney Dennis Herrera spokesperson John Cote said they were “disappointed” and “evaluating all of our options,” Bay City News reports.

“San Francisco is committed to remaining a leader in protecting health, especially when it comes to protecting the health of children,” Cote said.

The ruling could be appealed to an 11-judge panel or to the U.S. Supreme Court.




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