U.S. court to reconsider San Francisco soda health warning ruling

by Reuters
Monday, 29 January 2018 22:01 GMT

(Adds comments, background on soda taxes)

By Tina Bellon and Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 29 (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Monday agreed to reconsider an earlier ruling blocking a San Francisco law that mandated health warnings for soda and other sugary drinks.

It gave no reason for its decision

A three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the San Francisco ordinance last year, saying it unfairly targeted one group of products. In an order on Monday, the appeals court said it would rehear the case before a larger, 11-judge panel.

The San Francisco ordinance is part of a national effort to curb consumption of soft drinks and other high-calorie beverages that medical experts have said are largely to blame for an epidemic of childhood obesity.

In the past year, many U.S. localities have imposed taxes on sugary beverages, adding a surcharge of up to 1.75 cents per ounce (29 milliliters) on such drinks. At that rate, the cost of a typical 12-ounce can of soda would rise by 21 cents.

The beverage industry has opposed the measures, saying poor and working-class families and small businesses are hit hardest by them.

San Francisco passed an ordinance in June 2015 requiring advertisers within the city to include a warning that drinking high-sugar beverages contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

The American Beverage Association, which in 2015 asked for a preliminary injunction to block the ordinance's implementation, said in a statement on Monday that it was confident the larger panel would agree with last year's decision.

The California Retailers Association and the California State Outdoor Advertising Association, which jointly filed the lawsuit with the American Beverage Association, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

San Francisco's City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the court's decision on Monday was an important step for consumer protection. "San Francisco's law is on solid legal ground, and we welcome the opportunity to demonstrate that to the court," he said in a statement.

The appeals court decision does not reverse the blocking of the ordinance.

A unanimous three-judge 9th Circuit panel in September 2017 found that the required warning "overwhelmed other visual elements of the ads" and could violate protected commercial speech. The judges said the city's warning requirements were misleading and deceptive by exclusively focusing on sugar-sweetened beverages and not the advertisement of other products with equal or greater amounts of added sugar. (Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco and Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Paul Simao)

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