A bill introduced in the state Legislature yesterday sets up the latest tactic in the battle over soda and other sweetened drinks -- a proposal that would require a health-risk warning label on sugary drinks.
"Sugar-sweetened beverages are the single largest reason for the obesity epidemic in California," said Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), author of SB 1000.
"For this reason, we need this bill to establish the Safety Warning Act, to provide consumers with the information they need to make informed decisions about what they're drinking."
The bill would require warning labels on cans and bottles of soda, energy drinks and sweetened teas -- any drinks that contain 75 or more calories in 12 ounces.
The warning would say: "STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay."
Monning last session authored a bill to impose a tax on soda and other high-sugar drinks. That measure, SB 622, was shelved on the Appropriations suspense file. Monning still could bring that bill back, but said he's not focused on that now.
"We don't abandon that as an objective but for now we want to provide notice to people about what they're drinking," Monning said. When he pushed for the soda tax last year, Monning pointed out the industry contended it was not a tax issue, but an education issue.
"So we're taking them up on that," Monning said.
Ashby Wolfe, a family practice physician in Oakland, said this is a public health issue, right alongside alcohol and tobacco use.
"As a family physician, I'm challenged daily by type 2 diabetes and heart disease," Wolfe said. "The science on this issue is clear. Those of us entrusted with the health of community must do something …
Just like tobacco and alcohol warnings, we need to help people to understand the risks associated with sugar-sweetened beverages."
A Field Poll released Wednesday showed that California voters' greatest concerns about children's health are related to foods that are risk factors for obesity and diabetes.
"Diabetes is insidious and life-threatening, and the incidence of diabetes has doubled in the last 20 years," said Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. He said sugar-sweetened soda deserves much of the blame. "It's the number one source of added sugar in the American diet."
Goldstein raised the grade-school science experiment where teeth are placed in different liquid suspensions, and the one in soda dissolves away after a few days. "That same thing happens when the teeth are in your mouth," he said. "Sugar is a disaster for our teeth."
Sodas and other sweetened drinks are different from other unhealthful foods, such as pizza or junk food, Monning said.
"It's not a fair comparison with other foods, which may have high salts or fats but at least those have some nutritional value," Monning said. "These drinks have zero nutritional value."
Monning said he hopes this bill, if successful, might prompt similar efforts elsewhere.
"We hope it would pave the way for a national effort," Monning said.