Health Advocates Frustrated as Soda Warning Bill Dies

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Health advocates are expressing frustration after a bill that would have required warning labels on sugary drinks died in Sacramento.

The state's Senate Health Committee voted 4-1 on Wednesday afternoon, but the bill needed five votes to advance. In addition to the five senators who voted, another four were present in the hearing room but did not vote.

"This is really a tragedy for California," said Harold Goldstein, executive director for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, sponsor of SB203. Last year a similar bill made it through the Senate before stalling in the Assembly.

Along with many doctors, Goldstein says sugary drinks are a major driver of obesity and diabetes. The bill called for a label on most drinks with more than 75 calories per 12-ounce serving. This would include regular soda drinks. (Diet drinks were not covered, since they have no sugar and very few, if any, calories.)

The proposed label said: “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”

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Such a warning label would spur some people to switch to healthier drinks, Goldstein said. He faulted the senators who did not vote for the bill, effectively killing it.

"The members of the Senate Health Committee, whose responsibility is to protect the health of Californians, chose instead to side with the beverage industry to keep scientifically-based information about the harmful effects of soda and other sugary drinks away from California consumers.”

Bob Achermann, executive director with CalBev, was pleased with the committee's decision. “Addressing obesity and diabetes is more complicated than a warning label," he said in a statement. "The best way to promote balanced lifestyles is through fact-based information, not sensational safety warning labels."

Darcel Harris Lee, president and CEO of the California Black Health Network, testified in support of the bill before the committee. She called the vote "disappointing," but said the bill would be back. She compared the advocacy her group is doing with that of the organization's efforts to put warning labels on cigarette packages decades ago.

"I truly believe we have to continue this fight," she said. "I'm not discouraged, I'm not deterred. We just continue this fight, and it is going to happen."

Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), the author of the bill, also said he was not deterred.

“The scientific evidence of the proven adverse health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages demands a health warning label, and it is only a matter of time before California enacts legislation that informs individuals about healthful beverage choices.”

Here's a list of how the committee members voted:

Yes:

Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles)

Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel)

Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento)

Sen.  Lois Wolk (D-Davis)

No:

Sen. Jim Nielsen, (R-Roseville)

Not voting/Abstain:

Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina),

Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Santa Ana)

Sen. Isadore Hall (D-San Pedro)

Sen. Richard Roth (D-Riverside)