CA Appeals Court Rules Soda Health Warning Label Violates Free Speech

Posted On: 2/5/2019

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Jan. 31 to block San Francisco's Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Warning Ordinance, requiring health warnings on advertisements for soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. The American Beverage Association and other retail groups had sued to block the ordinance.
The court said in a unanimous decision that the law violates constitutionally-protected commercial speech.
“Because Plaintiffs have a colorable First Amendment claim, they have demonstrated that they likely will suffer irreparable harm if the Ordinance takes effect,” the opinion by Circuit Judge Susan Graber claims.
The city and county enacted the ordinance in June 2015, but the American Beverage Association, California Retailers Association and California State Outdoor Advertising Association had sued to prevent it from being implemented, arguing that San Francisco's ordinance violated their First Amendment right to the freedom of speech.
The district court put the ordinance on hold until the appellate court’s ruling. It required this warning on advertisements for drinks with added sugar:
“WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco.” The ordinance provides that the warning, in a black box, comprise at least 20% of the ad’s space.
“The warning requirement in this case unduly burdens and chills protected commercial speech,” Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote. She noted that “the black box warning overwhelms other visual elements in the advertisement” and that this “is analogous to other requirements that courts have struck down as imposing an undue burden on commercial speech.”
Click here to read the ruling.