California lawmakers on Thursday advanced the last major surviving bill in a package aimed at reducing consumption of sodas, approving a measure that would require health warning labels on sugary drinks.
The measure by Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) received a bare majority of votes even though some Democrats withheld votes while others in the majority party joined Republicans in opposition.
The latest action follows this year’s shelving of measures that would have put a tax on soda and banned “Big Gulp”-style sodas in an effort to address health risks including obesity and diabetes that are posed by sugary drinks.
“They represent the single leading source of increased bad calories that are being promoted in our communities and pushed on communities of color,” Monning said during the floor debate, citing a “national epidemic” of diabetes.
Senate Bill 347, which goes to the Assembly next, would require labels on drinks with added caloric sweeteners that contain 75 calories or more per 12 fluid ounces.
The label on container would say: “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) may contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay.”
Monning amended the bill to exempt flavored milk drinks, but said it would apply to sport teas and energy drinks that have significant sugar.
Those who voted against the measure included Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), who said it would add to the cost of doing business in California and should be addressed nationally to avoid differing rules by state.
“Making California an outlier will make it difficult for businesses that sell nationally,” Moorlach told his colleagues.
Monning said his bill, which is similar to one that failed last year, would just allow consumers to make informed choices.
The American Beverage Assn. opposed the bill with a strong push by lobbyists and while making major political contributions to state lawmakers.
The industry argued that the bill and its health impact claims went too far.
“There are already more effective ways to help people manage their overall sugar consumption rather than through mandatory and misleading messages,” said Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for the American Beverage Assn.
Monning cited a study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said obesity affected about 93.3 million of adults in 2016, and the estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars.
Supporters of the bill included Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a pediatrician, who said sugary drinks are a major contributor to medical ailments.
“We are seeing rising rates of diabetes,” Pan said during the floor debate. “We need to address this public health crisis.”
Legislators are also still considering a bill that would bar the soda industry from offering subsidies including discount coupons that encourage soda consumption.