Beverage Group Tackles SF’s Anti-Soda Stance

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – San Francisco’s recent ordinance to regulate soda and other sugary drinks is unconstitutional, the American Beverage Association claims in Federal Court.
     The organization claims that the new laws – which require warning labels on new soda ads in the city and ban soda advertising on city property – violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The laws are some of the strictest soda regulations in the nation.
     American Beverage’s action is the latest installment in the soda industry’s efforts to fight regulation of its products. It spent $10 million last year to help defeat a tax on sugary beverages on the November ballot.
     In the complaint, ABA claims that the ordinance’s “speech ban” is unconstitutional because it “discriminates against certain private speakers explicitly based on their identities, and prohibits them from engaging in core protected speech.”
     “It would, for instance, forbid a sugar-sweetened beverage producer from using its name in a traditional public forum like Civic Center Plaza to rally political opposition to laws or politicians attacking sugar-sweetened beverages,” the suit says.
     The ordinance’s warning mandate also violates the First Amendment “by compelling sugar-sweetened beverage advertisers to broadcast the city’s controversial, negative opinions about their products,” the ABA claims.
     San Francisco’s warning label will apply to ads on city billboards, buses, transit shelters, posters and stadiums. It will read, “WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.”
     The ABA claims that the ordinance also violates due-process rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, and says it’s based on science that may be eventually proven wrong.
     “‘Accepted’ nutritional science is continually evolving: it is complicated, often controversial, and subject to contentious debate,” the organization says.
     “And once-firm conclusions are frequently rethought and revised or discarded years later as scientists learn more about the complicated interaction of discrete dietary choices on our overall health and well-being.”
     California Retailers Association and the California State Outdoor Advertising Association are also named as plaintiffs.
     The plaintiffs could be reached for comment on Friday. They are represented by James Lynch, with Latham & Watkins in San Francisco.
     Supervisor Scott Wiener – who authored the warning-label component of the ordinance – said the soda industry “will do, say, or spend whatever it takes to prevent communities from taking common sense steps to protect their residents’ health from a product that is fueling the explosion of type 2 diabetes and other health problems.”
     He compared the city’s planned labels to ones that have been on cigarettes for years, noting that – like cigarettes – sugary drinks make people sick.
     “Our legislation requiring health warnings on soda ads and banning soda ads on public property are first-of-their-kind legislation,” Wiener said. “It would be surprising if the soda industry did NOT go to the mat to fight these groundbreaking public health measures – measures that convey to the public the serious health consequences of soda consumption.”

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