San Francisco May Put Warnings on Ads for Sugary Drinks

A proposed soda tax failed at the ballot last fall but may be revisited. Warnings would apply to outdoor advertising in the city limits.

Warnings that say sugary drinks contribute to obesity and diabetes could appear on outdoor ads for soda, sports drinks, and other sugary drinks within San Francisco, California, if an ordinance that had unanimous support from the city’s lawmakers this week wins final approval.

The warning, akin to the label that appears on cigarette packaging and ads, would not appear on drink bottles or cans themselves. However, a measure to require that is pending in the California legislature.

A spokesman for the beverage industry told the Associated Press that his group might sue over the ordinance and 2 related measures, which would bar sugary drink ads on city property and ban the use of city funds to buy sugary beverages. Last fall, the beverage industry succeeded in defeating a ballot measure in which San Francisco would have joined its neighbor, Berkeley, in adopting the nation’s first sugary beverage tax.

The tax passed in Berkeley. While a majority voted for the tax in San Francisco, it did not receive the two-thirds support required for passage.

John Maa, a surgeon a board member of the American Heart Association, told the AP, “Another attempt at the sugar-sweetened beverage tax is being considered.”

“These are not harmless products that taste good,” said the author of the measure, Supervisor Scott Weiner. “These are products that are making people sick.” He told The New York Times that the cost of sugary drinks was $50 million just considering obesity and diabetes alone.

Healthcare activism is associated with the Bay Area, which in the 1970s was the cradle of the movement to ban indoor cigarette smoking. But sugary drinks and soda in particular have been targeted by researchers as a culprit in the rise of childhood obesity, not only in the United States but also in countries like Mexico, where a soda tax took effect in 2014.

The idea of taxing sugary sweetened beverages or adding warning labels has been supported by research, including a series of presentations in 2013 at the annual Scientific Sessions of American Diabetes Association. A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola has 140 calories, all from sugar.

If approved, the plan would require warnings in advertising within the city limits on billboards, posters, bus stops, vehicle displays, and advertising in city venues such as football stadiums. Advertising in newspapers, magazines and the Internet would be excluded.

The proposal faces a final vote next week. Mayor Ed Lee had not taken a public position but a spokesperson told the AP he was open to it.