A California state lawmaker introduced legislation on Thursday requiring soda and other sugary beverages to carry warning labels, in much the same way that cigarettes do.

Citing studies that link these beverages to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay, State Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), is proposing that a warning label be added to the front of all cans and bottles of soda and fruit drinks that have 75 or more calories per 12 ounces.

If passed, California would become the first state to require such labeling.

“There is overwhelming evidence that soda and other sugary drinks are a major and unique contributor to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay,” says Harold Goldstein, director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, one of four sponsors of the legislation. “The bill gives consumers the information, so they can make the decision on whether or not they want to have the drink,” says Goldstein. “This is about giving consumers’ choice.”

Also sponsoring SB1000 are the California Medical Association, the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, and the California Black Health Network.

The label, developed by a national panel of nutrition and public health experts, would read: STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.

The bill still has to go through the entire legislative process. If signed into law, restaurateurs will have a six-month lead-time to prepare before it goes into effect in July 2015.

At quick-serve restaurants with self-serve soda dispensers, the label would be placed on the dispenser. How the warning would be handled at full-service restaurants is still under discussion, although one possibility mentioned is placing it on the menu, says Goldstein.

Calbev, the California arm of the American Beverage Association, opposes the initiative, saying in a statement released on Thursday that soft drinks are not solely responsible for obesity.

"It is misleading to suggest that soft drink consumption is uniquely responsible for weight gain,” read the statement. “ In fact, only 4.0 percent of calories in the average American diet are derived directly from soda. According to government data, foods, not beverages, are the top source of sugars in the American diet.”

Recent high-profile government efforts to limit soft drink consumption have failed, most notably former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to ban the sale of oversized sodas, and Monning’s own attempt to impose a tax on sweetened beverages.

By Joann Whitcher

Industry News, Legal