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Federal Judge Upholds San Francisco's Ordinance On Mandatory Warnings In Soda Ads

By Jelani James | May 18, 2016 05:00 PM EDT

There's a revolution in healthy eating coming, and it may very well find its roots in San Francisco, Calif., after a federal judge determined that soda manufacturers will be required to include warnings about the dangers of their products on certain advertisements in the city.

The case finds its roots in 2015, when San Francisco enacted a new city ordinance that would require soda manufacturers to place warnings on the ads for their products. 

With the new rules set to go into effect on July 25, the American Beverage Association, the California Retailers Association, and the California State Outdoor Advertising Association, all of whom are responsible for putting Coke, Pepsi and other potentially affected drinks on billboards and elsewhere, filed a lawsuit against San Francisco in an attempt to get the law overturned.

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They argue that the San Francisco ordinance violates their First Amendment rights by forcing them to include speech on their advertising that they do not support. The warning, which would appear on any paper ads, posters and billboards in the city, will read:

"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."

In addition, they argue that the ordinance goes beyond restricting commercial speech (i.e. the explicit selling of products) and crosses into the realm of restricting non-commercial speech. All-in-all, they said that they feel like soda and other sugary drinks are being unfairly targeted and require a higher degree of protection from the law as a result.

On the other hand, supporters of the law say the warnings are intended to "inform the public of the presence of added sugars and thus promote informed consumer choice that may result in reduced caloric intake and improved diet and health."

U.S. District Judge Edward Chen ruled in the favor of the city of San Francisco on Tuesday, saying the warning required by the city ordinance is "factual and accurate."

"The warning required by the city ordinance is factual and accurate, and the City had a reasonable basis for requiring the warning given its interest in public health and safety," he said.

Following the ruling, the ABA said that it is reviewing everything but plans to to continue challenging the ordinance in court.

"We are disappointed in the Court's ruling on our motion for a preliminary injunction as we believe that the City of San Francisco's mandate violates the constitutional rights of a select group by unfairly discriminating against one particular category of products, based on one ingredient found in many other products,'' the industry group added in a statement.

In the meantime, the city will go forward with enforcing the ordinance in July as planned.

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