Long a feature on cigarette boxes and beer cans, health warnings will soon appear on advertisements for sugary drinks — at least in one US city.
Beginning July 25, outdoor ads for sugar-added drinks in the city of San Francisco will have to include this disclaimer: “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.” A US District Court upheld the ordinance this week, despite the claim by the American Beverage Association that the new rule violated soda makers’ free speech rights.
That will make San Francisco the first US city to adopt a warning for sugary drinks. Baltimore’s city council is considering a similar step. Statewide bills have been introduced in New York, Vermont, and Washington.
And though warning labels may seem like a radical step, most consumers appear to support them. A study in January by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that nearly 75 percent of people supported warning labels on sugar-sweetened drinks.
Labels aren’t the only way cities have tried to tackle sugar consumption. Taxes are another tactic: Philadelphians head to the polls in June to vote on a three-cents-per-ounce soda tax. In Oakland, Calif., a November vote could add a penny-per-ounce tax to sugar-sweetened soft drinks; nearby Berkeley already has a similar measure in place. Boulder, Colo., is also considering a ballot measure to tax sugary drinks.
Other places have limited people’s, and especially kids’, access to the drinks. Boston Public Schools has one of the longest-standing bans. In 2004, the district banned the sale of soft drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened teas, and sports drinks in schools. Last year, a Harvard study found that only 4 percent of schoolchildren in the district had access to sugary drinks.
But bans haven’t fared so well nationwide. In 2014, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg famously attempted to ban larger sizes of sugary drinks in the city, drawing national backlash. Months later, a state appeals court ruled that he and the city’s health board lacked the authority to impose the ban.