ABA challenges San Francisco sugary drink warning labels in court

Dive Brief:

  • A lawyer representing the American Beverage Association has asked U.S. District Judge Edward Chen to prevent San Francisco from enforcing mandatory warning labels on ads for sugary drinks that appear on city property. ABA argues that the label, set to take effect in July, allegedly undermines free speech, and is misleading.
  • The opposing attorney argued that the word choice ("contributes") used in the warning label is not misleading and that, "If an advertiser would rather not speak than make the disclosure, that is not a First Amendment problem."
  • "If you put a 20 percent block warning on our advertisements, you will completely and utterly undermine the message we are trying to send with that advertisement," ABA lawyer Robert Bress said. "We are trying to promote a message, and if you require these kinds of block warnings on them it's going to change the nature of the whole experience."

Dive Insight:

This case harks back to 2012, when the food and beverage industry came under fire by public health advocates who urged the government to restrict "junk food" ads targeted at children. In that case, the industry also invoked its right to free speech under the First Amendment.

Last month, six candy companies joined the the Children's Confection Advertising Initiative, collectively committing to not directly target advertisements at children under 12. The group followed the lead of a similar industry group, the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.

ABA first brought its free speech lawsuit against San Francisco last July. In June, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted unanimously for sugary drink labels that would read, "WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay." The board also banned ads for sugary beverages on city property, which the ABA has alleged is another First Amendment violation.

At that time, the board also passed an ordinance that would prevent the city from spending government money on sugary beverages. ABA has not challenged this ordinance.

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Filed Under: Marketing Beverages
Top image credit: Mitaukano