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Ninth Circuit strikes down SF soda health warning law

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A San Francisco ordinance requiring health warnings on soda advertisements has been struck down on appeal. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

A federal appeals court on Thursday struck down a San Francisco ordinance requiring health warnings on advertisements for sodas and sugary drinks, but officials said it may still be possible to amend the ordinance to meet the court’s concerns.

The ordinance, enacted in 2015 and authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener when he was on the Board of Supervisors, would have required ads and labels to warn that “drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.”

It was challenged by the American Beverage Association, the California Retailers Association and the California State Outdoor Advertising Association, which argued that it violated free speech rights by forcing them to display a message they didn’t agree with and discriminated against a particular category of products.

SEE RELATED: Appeals court orders injunction blocking SF soda warning law

John Cote, a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office, said the decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco largely boiled down to concerns about the size of the required warning label, which the ordinance said must cover 20 percent of the label.

“The court found that 20 percent is too large but suggested 10 percent would be sufficient,” Cote said. “We’re evaluating our next steps in light of this decision. But make no mistake: we’re committed to protecting the health of San Francisco residents by allowing them to get factual information.”

Wiener said he was “optimistic” that the ordinance could be amended to comply with the court’s ruling and urged the Board of Supervisors to try again with an amended ordinance.

“These drinks are not safe, and as with cigarettes, we have an obligation to warn people of their health risks,” Wiener said. “This fight isn’t over.”

The beverage retailers did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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