UPDATE: San Francisco becomes first city to require health warnings on soda ads

San Francisco became the first city Tuesday to require a health warning label on soda advertisements, as part of an ongoing effort to reduce consumption of beverages blamed for causing diabetes, obesity and tooth decay.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to mandate the health warning labels on soda advertisements. The board also approved the prohibition of sugary beverage advertisements on public property, joining the list of other product ad bans like tobacco and alcohol, and the use of city funds to purchase sugary beverages.

“Health warnings work. They have worked with cigarettes and they will work here,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who proposed the legislation on the warnings.

The warnings must be displayed on billboard and ads associated with stores and take up 20 percent of the ad space. The label, which is required one year from the law’s passage, must 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.”

The soda industry, who had sent a dietitian to testify against the proposal previously, issued a statement following the vote, saying it would “explore all options.”

“We are disappointed that San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors chose the politically expedient route of scapegoating sweetened beverages instead of finding genuine and comprehensive solutions to the complex issues of obesity and diabetes,” said Bob Achermann, executive director of CalBev. He added that the ad “misinforms the public about what causes diabetes and obesity by unjustifiably singling out beverages.”

But supporters of the effort say San Francisco voters sent a clear mandate to city officials to curtail soda consumption by voting last year 56 percent in support of a soda tax, despite the soda industry spending $10 million to defeat it. While it failed, needing two-thirds vote, Wiener said, that “the voters sent a very clear message that they agree that this is a problem and they want us to take action.”

Supervisor Eric Mar, who proposed banning city departments from buying soda, said the legislation grew out of the work of a broad coalition that have for years worked to curb the intake of sugary beverages. That includes efforts by Shape Up SF and its promotion of a “Soda Free Summer.” The group also had a recent ad campaign on public transit lines warning of soda’s health risks.

Mar signaled that last year’s effort to try and tax soda is far from over. “The broad coalition is committed to not only looking at these types of legislation but also addressing other issues — hopefully next steps to pass a soda tax sometime in the future in San Francisco.”

Wiener called the sugary beverage consumption “a looming disaster for our health care system,” noting that the sugary drinks comprise about half of the sugar in people’s diet and how a 12 ounce can of soda has 10 teaspoons of sugar.

“We know that these drinks are fueling the explosion of type 2 diabetes, fatty liver diseases and other serious health problems,” Wiener said.

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