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Federal appeals court blocks San Fransisco ordinance requiring soda health warnings

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday blocked [opinion, PDF] a 2015 San Fransisco ordinance that mandated health warnings on advertisements for soda and other sugary drinks.

The beverage industry sued San Francisco in July 2015, seeking injunctive relief to prevent the implementation of the ordinance, which was set to go into effect on July 25, 2016.

The ordinance applied only to certain types of advertisements for sugar-sweetened beverages that contained one or more added sweeteners and more than 25 calories per 12 fluid ounces. These advertisers were required under the ordinance to include the following message:

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.
This warning was to be enclosed in a black, rectangular box with bold typeface and take up 20 percent of the ad.

Representatives of the beverage industry challenged the law on First Amendment grounds, arguing that it unconstitutionally compelled speech. San Fransisco disagreed. The city stated that the purpose of the ordinance was to promote informed consumer choice, which could potentially reduce illnesses to which sugar-sweetened beverages contribute. The court concluded that "[b]ecause the ordinance is not purely factual and uncontroversial and is unduly burdensome, it offends the [beverage companies'] First Amendment rights by chilling protected commercial speech."

This judgment overturns [JURIST report] a ruling from the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website], which denied the industry's request for a pretrial injunction. The district court judge ruled that the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on their First Amendment claim, but he put the ordinance on hold pending the result of this appeal.

John Cote, a spokesman for San Francisco's city attorney office, said [Reuters report] the city is disappointed and evaluating all options.

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