Advertising the health risks of sugary soda could violate First Amendment Rights, they say.

Jillian Kramer
September 21, 2017

You know your soda habit isn't exactly good for you. But if you live in San Francisco, you could have been smacked over the head with sugary beverage warnings, as a 2015 ordinance passed by the city would have forced soft-drink ads on billboards, bus stops, or in any other public surfaces to carry warnings, like a pack of cigarettes. The ordinance had been put on hold, challenged in the court system, and this week, a federal court overturned the labels, siding with soda makers and their supporters.

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The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week San Francisco's controversial requirement violated the First Amendment rights of soda companies, the lawsuit's plaintiffs, including the American Beverage Association and the California Retailers Association. The court added that singling out soda was misleading and deceptive.

"By focusing on a single product, the [required] warning conveys the message that sugar-sweetened beverages are less healthy than other sources of added sugars and calories," one of the judges, Judge Sandra Ikuta, said in the ruling delivered Tuesday.

If the ordinance had been allowed to stand, it would have required soda companies to dedicate 20 percent of their ad space to the warning labels, which would in part say that drinking the beverages "contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay."

The warning would have said it came from "the City and County of San Francisco."

The court also argued the FDA believes that added sugars "can be part of a healthy dietary pattern when not consumed in excess amounts," and that without specifying that overconsumption leads to health risks, the warning labels would be misleading.

It doesn't seem, however, that the ruling will stop San Francisco from attempting another way to warn the public of the dangers of drinking too many sweet drinks. "San Francisco remains committed to being a leader when it comes to protecting the health of our residents, especially our children," city spokesman John Cote said.

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