San Francisco Sugar Lawsuit Shutdown: Beverages
The City of San Francisco passed legislation in June 2015 that requires health warnings to be placed on advertising for sugar-sweetened beverages (i.e., nonalcoholic beverages with caloric sweeteners that contain more than 25 calories per 12 oz.). Specifically, the warning 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 July 2015, trade associations filed a lawsuit challenging the legislation on First Amendment grounds.
On May 17, 2016, a California federal judge ruled against the plaintiffs, finding that “[t]he 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.” Although the plaintiffs sought review of their First Amendment claims under strict scrutiny, the judge found this to be unwarranted under Zauderer because the ordinance “requires disclosure rather than suppression of speech.” In denying the motion for a preliminary injunction, the court found that plaintiffs were “not likely to succeed on the merits of their First Amendment claim” and that it was “unlikely that they would suffer irreparable harm if the ordinance were to go into effect.” The ruling further stated that even if the plaintiffs “had established serious questions going to the merits, balancing of hardships does not tip sharply in their favor.”
The ruling paves the way for San Francisco’s sugar-sweetened beverage warning to take effect on July 25, 2016.