San Francisco could soon be the first city in the country to place health warnings on advertisements for sugary drinks.
Lawmakers there voted unanimously this week in favor of a measure that would require a stark warning label – akin to the caution label on cigarettes – noting the link between sugary drink consumption and chronic disease. The warning labels would appear only on advertisements for sugary drinks, not on the products themselves, though a separate measure at the state level would require such warnings directly on soda cans and bottles.
“Warning,” the new label on the advertisements would read. “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.”
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will decide whether to approve the ordinance next week and, barring a veto by the city’s mayor, Ed Lee, the law would take effect this summer. Mr. Lee has not publicly taken a position on the measure, but its supporters say he is open to it.
The measure was approved by San Francisco lawmakers on Tuesday along with two other proposals, one of which would ban all advertisements for sugary drinks on publicly owned property. The other would forbid the use of city funds for the purchase of sugary beverages.
Scott Wiener, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which voted in support of the measure, said in a statement that requiring the health warnings on soda ads “makes clear that these drinks aren’t harmless – indeed, quite the opposite.”
“San Francisco has sent a clear message that we need to do more to protect our community’s health,” he said.
Mr. Wiener’s office said that in San Francisco, the financial impact of sugary drinks exceeded $50 million “even when only considering diabetes and obesity,” and that one in three children today are expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime.
If it receives final approval next week, the new measure would require the health warning on billboards and posters in San Francisco, as well as on ads for sugary beverages displayed in stadiums, on bus stops and on vehicles. Advertisements in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet would not be included.
The measure would apply to sugar-sweetened drinks with 25 calories or more, including sodas, sports drinks and iced teas. But milk and some natural fruit and vegetable juice drinks would be excluded. The warning labels would take up at least 20 percent of the ad space.
Last year San Francisco failed to enact a tax on sugary drinks through a ballot initiative. The tax was fiercely opposed by industry groups, which spent millions fighting it. About 56 percent of voters supported the ballot initiative, but that figure fell short of the two-thirds majority required for the special tax to pass.
Berkeley, San Francisco’s neighbor, enacted a soda tax last year,becoming the first city in the country to do so.
A spokesman for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, a nonprofit organization, hailed the new San Francisco measure and said that the “natural next step is to take similar policies to the state level by requiring warning labels on the products itself.”
The group helped sponsor legislation that would require warning labels on all sugary drink cans, dispensers and vending machines in California. The legislation passed the State Senate but died in the Assembly. A similar bill was introduced this year and will most likely be voted on in 2016.