California Senate Votes For Warning Labels on Sugary Drinks

Sodas and other sugary drinks sold in California would come with warning labels about obesity, diabetes and tooth decay under a bill that narrowly cleared the state Senate on Thursday despite strong opposition from the beverage industry.

The Senate voted 21-11 on Thursday to require warning labels on drinks that contain 75 calories or more of added sugar or sweeteners per 12 fluid ounces. The labels would be similar to those on cigarette cartons, denoted by an explanation mark inside of a triangle and placed on the front of the container in bold type and separate from all other information.

Retailers serving fountain drinks, including retailers, would have to put up signs warning their customers. The Department of Public Health would enforce the law, issuing warnings for a first violation and fines of up to $500 for every violation after that. But retailers would be shielded from lawsuits brought by consumers.

“We are not removing the product from the shelves. We are informing choice. It’s a public right to know,” said bill author Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel.

The bill had significant opposition from the beverage industry. Records show the American Beverage Association spent more than $273,000 since January lobbying against that bill and others, including taking lawmakers and their aides to Sacramento Kings’ games.

The American Beverage Association has called the labels misleading, relying on statements from the Food and Drug Administration that added sugars “generally are recognized as safe” when not consumed in excess. They also point to a federal appeals ruling in January that blocked a similar measure put in place in San Francisco. The ruling said that measure violated constitutionally protected commercial speech.

“America’s beverage companies fully support efforts to provide consumers with accurate information on our products, but there are more effective ways to do this without using misleading labels which have been previously struck down by courts in California,” American Beverage Association spokesman Steven Maviglio said.

After debate, the bill had 17 votes — four short of the 21 required to pass. But when Monning brought the bill back up for a vote several hours later, after having a chance to speak to holdouts, it passed with exactly 21 votes. No Republicans voted for the bill. Nine Republicans and two Democrats voted against it. Five Democrats and one Republican did not vote.

The bill now heads to the state Assembly, where Monning said a similar proposal failed to pass two years ago.

The beverage industry has become a frequent target for some California lawmakers. Last year, the legislature passed a law requiring restaurants to list milk or water on children’s menus, only offering sodas and other sugary drinks upon request. But efforts earlier this year to tax soda and ban “Big Gulp” style drinks failed.

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