San Francisco's Law on Sugary Drinks Defeats Injunction Attempts

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on May 26, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District in California refused to grant an injunction to halt the law recently approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors that would force very prominent warnings on ads of sugary drinks. It means that there's effectively nothing to stop the law from taking effect as scheduled next July.

Victory for Health Nuts; Loss for Diabetes

Under the basic application of the law, all manner of ads within the city promoting sugary drinks -- billboards, bus ads, bench ads, etc. -- must also contain warnings. But that's not all. The warning must also take up 20 percent of the area of the ad. Here is what the text of the warning must 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."

It's a major victory for health advocacy groups and can hardly be considered a surprising development given the progressive zeitgeist of San Francisco, which had been placed in the runner-up position of nation's health-nut city.

Freedom of Expression Claim

The gist of the petitioning groups (including the American Beverage Association) is that the law amounts to an unlawful restriction of free speech and that it happens to discriminate against one group (sugary drink makers) unfairly for containing sugar while other producers do not have to comply with the law.

While that may be true, we are quick to note that being a sugary-drink maker is not a suspect or intermediate class. And the court did not seem particularly moved by the groups request for an injunction because it was just not convinced that the groups would suffer irreparable harm if the law were to go into effect. The first amendment argument seemed a bit of stretch to the court as well.

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