Soda Warning Label Bill Is Back

State Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) is not giving up in the battle to put a health-risk warning label on sugared drinks. On Wednesday, Monning reintroduced the legislation (SB 203) that failed to pass during the last session.

But expect a different result this year, Monning said.

“We certainly hope for a different outcome this year, and again we expect strong resistance as we had last year,” Monning said. “But this is part of a larger general public health effort … Tobacco was a decades-long struggle. Now we see a change in the number of people who are affected by tobacco. We’re in the early stages.”

The text of SB 203 it similar to last year’s SB 1000, also authored by Monning, which passed a Senate floor vote but then failed to get out of the Assembly Committee on Health.

In that last vote, a number of Latino legislators in the committee either opposed the bill or abstained, and Monning said that was particularly disappointing to him, given the high rates of diabetes and obesity in the Latino population, particularly among young Latinos.

“We know demographically Latinos are the hardest hit by childhood obesity and preventable diabetes, so it was a disappointment to see [that],” Monning said. 

Monning said he reintroduced the legislation because those conditions have reached “public health crisis” proportions.

“It remains important because the crisis of preventable diabetes and obesity needs to be addressed, consumers need to know they have other options,” he said. “We consider this to be a public health crisis.”

Last year, some argued that it’s unfair to single out one type of food product — sugary drinks including soda, energy drinks and sports drinks — when other fattening or sugar-rich foods like doughnuts or candy wouldn’t have warning labels. They also raised the concern of tax revenue that could be lost if consumption of those beverages declines.

“A variety of arguments have been tried,” Monning said. “But it’s not me as a politician that’s saying it. It’s scientists and researchers. It’s the New England Journal of Medicine all of the peer-reviewed literature not funded by the soda industry, all saying these sugary drinks are the leading culprit of childhood obesity and preventable diabetes.”

The road to passage still will need to go through Assembly Health. Last year, the bill had eight votes in opposition and four votes in abstention on the committee — and of those 12 legislators, nine are still on the committee. One of the abstaining members from last year (Rob Bonta, D-Alameda) is now chair of the committee.

First stop for the bill will be the Senate Committee on Health, where Monning is one of nine committee members.

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