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Sugar sweetened drinks should carry obesity warnings

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 27 May 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3428
  1. Simon Capewell, professor of public health and policy, University of Liverpool

California is considering health warnings on sugary drinks like those on cigarette packets. Simon Capewell thinks it’s a good idea that the public would support

The California Senate Appropriations Committee is deliberating a bill that would require drinks manufacturers to place the following warning label on all sweetened non-alcoholic drinks: “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”1

Under the Sugar Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act (the first of its kind in the United States) these labels would apply to any such drink that “has added caloric sweeteners and contains 75 calories or more per 12 fluid ounces.” It would also require vending machines to bear warning labels and would allow for fines of $50 (£30; €37) to $500 (£297; €365) for failed inspections.

This remarkable suggestion raises questions about precedents, public support, and the political feasibility of such a move, as well as about science, public health, industry tactics, and comprehensive health strategies.

Many other potentially harmful products already carry effective health warnings. For example, insecticides and other toxic products have long carried labels warning users to take extreme care. Similarly, cigarettes have gone from being socially acceptable to quite unacceptable after warning labels were implemented. The effectiveness of tobacco warnings and plain packaging is now accepted by almost everyone not linked to the industry.2 These successes in tobacco control highlight the importance of targeting the “three As”—affordability, availability, and acceptability.3 Warning labels clearly …

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