Last week, the state Senate passed the bill, which would require that any sweetened non-alcoholic beverage (carbonated or non-carbonated) that contains 75 calories or more per 12 fluid ounces be labeled with the words, “Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”
The label would not apply to 100-percent fruit or vegetable juices, dietary aids, infant formulas, or “any beverage whose principal ingredient by weight is milk.”
The bill was introduced in February by state Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) and was co-sponsored by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA), the California Medical Association, the California Black Health Network and the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California.
“We got the bill through the Senate… We’re thrilled as can be,” CCPHA Executive Director Harold Goldstein told attendees Wednesday at the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Soda Summit in Washington, D.C.
“It provides an authoritative statement at the same time as it educates consumers,” he said, adding that “the campaign itself gets the message out.”
Goldstein said the idea for the warning label came after several attempts to pass bills to tax soda at the state and local level. The advocates decided that, before you can tax something, you have to be able to answer the question, “Why are you picking on soda and leaving everything else alone?”
So they reviewed the timeline for regulating tobacco. Smoking started to decrease when the U.S. Surgeon General’s report on smoking came out in the mid-1960s and warning labels were added to tobacco products, Goldstein said. Taxes on tobacco came after that.
Circling back to sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), he said, “I think we haven’t quite made the groundwork yet to make [taxes] happen.”
Goldstein said that the focus of the warning label campaign has really been on diabetes rather than just obesity because it goes beyond the issue of calories.
“This is about the uniquely harmful effects of liquid sugar,” he said, because scientific evidence points to sugary beverages increasing LDL cholesterol and dramatically raising the amount of fat in the liver.
Diabetes rates have tripled in the past 30 years, and one-fourth of teenagers today have diabetes or prediabetes. And a recent study shows that, of hospitalized Californians, one in three has the disease.
“It’s no longer about obesity — obesity is a risk factor. The risk factor has turned into disease already,” Goldstein said.
One question about SSB policy is whether it would instead shift consumption to diet beverages, but the research is still equivocal about the effects of sugar substitutes such as aspartame.
“We, in public health, wouldn’t be encouraging anyone to drink diet beverages,” Goldstein said. But what he finds most interesting is that diet soda consumption is dropping faster than that of regular soda.
“I think a lot of people who are drinking diet soda are stopping because they think it’s even worse,” he said.
A February 2014 poll found that 74 percent of California voters support the SSB warning label, including 86 percent of Latinos. The bill also has support across party lines, pulling in 80 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of Independents, 64 percent of Republicans, and even 63 percent of Tea Party supporters.
“This is something that everybody can get behind,” Goldstein said.
The beverage industry, however, is not behind the bill. CalBev, the California arm of the American Beverage Association, argues that soft drinks are not “uniquely responsible for weight gain.”
After the bill passed the Senate, the association released a statement asserting, “Putting government warning labels on more than 500 beverages will do nothing to change personal behaviors or teach people about healthy lifestyles. The last thing California needs is more warning labels. Senate Bill 1000 will only feed the confusion surrounding hundreds of beverages without changing personal habits.”
The California State Assembly now has to act on the bill by the end of August. Even if it doesn’t pass, Goldstein said there’s a silver lining to the attempt.
“As long as this campaign is going on, there’s education going on,” he said.© Food Safety News