Federal Court Blocks San Francisco Health Warnings on Soda Ads

The law violates constitutionally protected commercial speech, judges said.

February 04, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -  For the second time, a federal appeals court has blocked a San Francisco law mandating health warnings on ads for soda and other sugary drinks, according to U.S. News. Such a precedent could have broader impacts and could be helpful in other areas where regulators try to force business to deliver certain messages.

In a unanimous ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a 2017 decision by a three-judge appeals panel. The 11 judges said the law violates constitutionally protected commercial speech and granted a preliminary injunction that stops the 2015 ordinance from taking effect.

The court also found San Francisco's warning that drinking sweet drinks can lead to obesity and other diseases wasn't based on established fact. The ruling cited Food and Drug Administration statements that sugar is "generally recognized as safe" when not consumed to excess.

The American Beverage Association, which represents Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and others, teamed with the California State Outdoor Advertising Association and California Retailers Association to oppose the San Francisco health warning.  

"We are pleased with this ruling, which affirms there are more appropriate ways to help people manage their overall sugar consumption than through mandatory and misleading messages," the American Beverage Association announced.

City officials said they would explore ways to modify the warning label so it would pass court review. The law would have required all beverage advertisements within San Francisco city limits to feature health warnings.

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