In May 2013, the California Senate passed a controversial bill requiring safety warning labels on “sugar-sweetened beverages.”  The warnings must state that drinking these beverages “contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”  The language of SB 1000 places much of the blame for the “obesity epidemic” in California on these beverages, but beverage industry advocates have questioned the efficacy of still more warning labels on California products, given the virtual omnipresence of Proposition 65 warning labels and other California warnings.  The bill now moves to the Assembly for committee review.

SB 1000, if passed, will apply to any “sweetened nonalcoholic beverage, carbonated or noncarbonated, sold for human consumption that has added caloric sweeteners and contains 75 calories or more per 12 fluid ounces.”  This excludes 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices with no added sweetener, dietary aids, medical treatments, infant and children electrolyte solutions, infant formula, and milk products.  It also does not address “diet” beverages with artificial sweeteners.

Warning labels must state:

STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.

The labels must be “prominently displayed and readily legible” on the front of beverage containers, and the language must be separate from other information.  SB 1000 proscribes font and type size requirements, with larger lettering required for larger beverage containers.  Sealed multi-packs of sugar-sweetened beverages must have the warning language on the packaging.  Warnings also must be placed on vending machines, soda fountains and coffee machines (and another self-serve dispenser, and at the point-of-sale when sugar-sweetened beverages are filled by an employee at the establishment (e.g., soda fountains behind-the-counter at a fast food restaurant).  The compliance obligation for these location-based warnings falls on the owners, lessors, or any other person with legal control over the premises.

If enacted, SB 1000 would go into effect on July 1, 2015.  After that date, violators would be subject to civil penalties of between $50 and $500 per violation, limited to one violation per inspection.  Civil penalties would be redistributed to local law enforcement to finance further enforcement.  SB 1000 also expressly allows local jurisdictions to enact local ordinances addressing sugar-sweetened beverages, as long as they do not require inconsistent safety warnings.