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San Francisco Inches Closer to Soda Tax, Imposing Health Warnings on Sugary Drink Ads

The warnings would primarily appear on billboards within the city limits.

Markus Mainka/Shutterstock

Sugary drinks are in the spotlight once again, after San Francisco supervisors voted unanimously to approve health warnings on advertisements for sugar drinks this past Tuesday. Beverages like sodas, sports and energy drinks and sweetened iced teas are under scrutiny for their negative impact on the battle against obesity, diabetes and other related health issues.

According to a report from ABC News, the ordinance includes any sugar-sweetened drink with more than 25 calories from sweeteners per 12 ounces  (meaning Diet Coke and other calorie-free beverages would not require the label).

Last year, Berkeley was the first city in the country to impose a soda tax. And while San Francisco shot down the soda tax and a similar health warning requirement last year, city supervisors see this as another way to bring the issue to the forefront and pave the way for another attempt on the 2016 ballot. They hope to create awareness by posting warnings on billboards and other print ads within the city limits, reading:

"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."

However, the ordinance would not apply to advertising in newspapers, circulars, broadcast outlets or even the Internet, nor would it appear on soda cans and bottles. But despite the somewhat limiting opportunities for awareness, opponents of the law (as in, beverage lobbyists) are citing free speech issues, threatening to sue to block the ordinance.

The final word on the health warning ordinance will come next week, assuming the mayor does not veto it. There's still plenty of time for antics from both soda-supporters and anti-soda factions, though it will be hard to top last year's display of the giant inflatable "Canzilla" and fake severed legs scattered throughout Dolores Park by soda opponents.