The Next Soda Battleground: Warning Labels on Soft Drink Ads

Get ready for Round 2 of the Bay Area soda wars.

(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Jun 9, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The beverage industry may have fended off a soda tax in San Francisco last year, but can it ward off the city’s latest push to curb consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages?

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is slated to vote this week on three measures that directly take aim at taking some of the fizz out of soda’s mass appeal, the most conspicuous of them being a first-in-the-nation requirement that ads for soda be slapped with a warning label. As The Associated Press reports, the proposed label would 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 warning would be mandatory on ads within the city limit, meaning on billboards, walls, and the sides of cabs and buses. The two other soda-busting measures would prohibit soda ads on city-owned property and prohibit municipal funds from being used to buy soda.

Predictably, the beverage industry has swooped in with its objections.

Related: Mexico’s Soda Tax Is Working

“It’s unfortunate the Board of Supervisors is choosing the politically expedient route of scapegoating instead of finding a genuine and comprehensive solution to the complex issues of obesity and diabetes,” a spokesman for the state beverage association, CalBev, told the AP.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association complained to Business Insider that “important facts were missing from [the] discussion”—namely, the myriad other factors that have been linked to Americans’ collective weight gain and associated health problems, such as lack of exercise and too much unhealthy food.

It’s interesting that the soda industry appears to have largely abandoned trying to attack the science that has linked soda consumption to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other serious health risks, instead falling back on the old PR standby: “The problems are complicated, so why just single out soda?”

Well, because cutting back soda consumption would be as good a place as any to start.

Indeed, there is arguably no single bigger source of superfluous sugar in the American diet than sugar-sweetened beverages, which have zero nutritional value. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization released its recommendation that people should get no more than 10 percent of their daily calorie intake from added sugars. For the average adult consuming 2,000 calories a day, a single 20-ounce Coke, with 65 grams of added sugar, puts you well over that limit.

Warning labels or no, the public may be getting the message. Voters in neighboring Berkeley became the first in the country to pass a soda tax last year, and while the beverage industry crowed about the defeat of a similar tax in San Francisco, it was a victory with an asterisk: A solid majority of city voters, 55 percent, approved the tax, but two-thirds were required to pass it.