SACRAMENTO -- Citing studies linking soda to obesity, a state lawmaker and medical experts proposed a first-in-the-nation bill Thursday that would require sugary drinks sold in California to have health warning labels similar to those on packs of cigarettes.
State Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) and the California Medical Assn. said the legislation is necessary because research links sugary drink consumption to skyrocketing rates of diabetes, tooth decay and obesity.
"When the science is this conclusive, the state of California has a responsibility to take steps to protect consumers," Monning said. "As with tobacco and alcohol warnings, this legislation will give Californians essential information they need to make healthier choices."
SB 1000 would require a warning label on the front of all cans and bottles of soda and fruit drinks sold in stores with added sweetners that have 75 or more calories per 12 ounces.
The label would read: "STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay."
At fast food restaurants with self-serve soda dispensers, the label would be on the dispenser. In a movie theater or business where the dispenser is behind the counter and used by employees, the label would be on the counter.
The bill is opposed by CalBev, the state arm of the American Beverage Assn., whose members include Coca-Cola Co., Pepsi-Cola Co. and the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. CalBev says the law should not single out one type of product for special treatment.
"We agree that obesity is a serious and complex issue," CalBev said in a statement. "However, it is misleading to suggest that soft drink consumption is uniquely responsible for weight gain. In fact, only four 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," the statement added.
Major soda producers that are part of the American Beverage Assn. have for years voluntarily put calorie counts on the front of each bottle that can to help consumers make decisions on what to buy, according to Jessica Borek, a spokeswoman for the association.
The wording for the proposed label was developed by a national panel of nutrition and public health experts.
"These diseases cost California billions of dollars in health care and lost productivity every year," said Dr. Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which is sponsoring the legislation. "When any product causes this much harm, it is time to take action."
However, past efforts by Monning to discourage soda consumption have not made it far because of opposition from the food industry.
A Senate committee recently shelved a Monning bill that would have put a penny-per-ounce tax on soft drinks to raise $1.7 billion for anti-obesity programs. The measure was strenuously opposed by the California Nevada Soft Drink Assn., which argued it would not change behavior but would add to consumer costs.
Americans drink more than 45 gallons of sugary beverages a year, according to Dr. Ashby Wolfe of the California Medical Assn. Drinking just one soda a day increases an adult's likelihood of being overweight by 27% and a child's by 55%, according to medical experts supporting the bill.
"As physicians, we're desperate to break the cycle of diabetes and obesity we see in our offices every day," Wolfe said.