Sugar warnings win big in court

“Warning: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.” The city and county of San Francisco want to add this message to billboards advertising sugary beverages.

With all the crazy proclamations coming out of San Francisco, once in a while, like a stopped clock, they get it right in spite of themselves. (Perhaps due to the sheer volume of government proclamations coming out of that city.)

(The same thing happened recently in the people’s republic of Montgomery County, Maryland. Last year, the government banned using artificial chemicals on lawns. Again, with the sheer propensity for big government intrusions into every facet of existence, sometimes they get it right with something that actually benefits everyone and makes scientific sense.)

Of course, the American Beverage Association sued for a temporary injunction to block San Francisco’s implementation of this new warning ordnance. They tried to claim that the warning was not scientifically accurate.

They also tried to claim that sugar water should not be singled out, because other foods contain sugars, and there’s no way to know which source of sugar causes what. (They must not know about all the studies that specifically looked at beverages, versus other sources?)

This old “toxic soup” argument is the last vestige scoundrels use to defend toxic chemicals of all kinds — as I have seen in my forensic medical practice. They convince judges there must be evidence on the specific effects of each and every individual source of chemical toxicity, independently. But no human study could ever provide such results, since we are all, in fact, actually living in a toxic soup. Nobody could ever meet that standard in any court, and so the poisoning continues.

According to an article in the Journal of the AMA, the big beverage industry misappropriated the methods, logic, and language of science to create doubt about San Francisco’s case against soda.

The industry relied on its own self-financed research, manipulating scientific communications, applying scientific reductionism, dismissing behavioral and economic studies, and demanding perfect scientific evidence — making the perfect into the enemy of the good.

Again, in my former forensic practice, in civil matters, the appropriate standard is “more likely than not.” In other words, it should be enough to say, considering the preponderance of all the evidence, that it is more likely than not that consuming sugar water causes health problems. Anyone who has been reading my Dispatches this week again has a lot of evidence to answer that question.

Instead, the beverage industry was attempting to apply the standard of criminal trials ­— “beyond a reasonable doubt” — to the soda warning ordnance. I always saw this standard employed in homicide trials. (But which party is causing the death of others in this case?)

Judge rules in favor of common sense

The judge denied the motion to stay the new warning, citing prior case law that “turns on whether disclosure conveys factual information, or an opinion, not on whether the disclosure affects its audience or incites controversy,” in terms of First Amendment free speech. (The San Francisco government would do well to keep that ruling in mind when it comes to free speech in public spaces and on campuses as well.)

A California state lawmaker also introduced a bill that would require warning labels on packaging of sugary beverages sold throughout the state. Even if that bill fails, like the two before it, you can consider yourself warned.

Skip the soda. Go for water, an herbal infusion, black coffee, or aspal tea instead.



“Science and Public Health on Trial: Warning Notices on Advertisements for Sugary Drinks,” JAMA  August 1, 2016;316(15):1545-1546