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A proposed bill would require warning signs in Baltimore stores that sell sugary beverages. Seen here with a sample sign are, from left, Aaron Maybin of Baltimore, a former NFL player with the Jets, Bills, Bengals; Dr. Richard Bruno, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Councilman Nick Mosby; Dr. Leana Wen, Commissioner of Heath Baltimore City; Rovi Rawl, Executive Director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Baltimore city councilman wants warnings about sugary drinks

Opponents say proposed legislation would hurt business owners and frighten customers

A Baltimore councilman wants warnings in places where sugary drinks are sold in the city to make sure customers understand the associated health risks.

Legislation sponsored by councilman and mayoral candidate Nick Mosby would have the city’s Health Department put text linking sugar-sweetened beverages to tooth decay, diabetes and obesity on advertisements, restaurant menus and in city stores.

“Our children are in schools before school, after school and on the weekends purchasing these drinks,” Mosby said at a news conference Monday.

Mosby said he planned to introduce the bill at Monday night’s city council meeting.

Sugar-sweetened beverages include anything that contains added caloric sweetener, including soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, many juices, sweetened coffee drinks, sweetened teas, officials said.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen framed the issue as a matter of public safety. While there’s much attention given to drugs and violence in Baltimore, the No. 1 killer of both men and women is heart disease, she said.

Doctors are seeing in increasing number of children and teenagers with high blood-pressure and diabetes, Wen added.

“One-quarter of our school-age children are obese, and it’s no coincidence that one out of four school-age children also drink a whole 12 ounces of regular soda every day,” she said.

The health department will provide the signage to businesses, and failure to display the warnings will result in a $500 civil penalty, officials said.

Mosby’s proposal drew fire from the Maryland Retailers Association, the Restaurant Association of Maryland and the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Beverage Association, which issued a joint statement saying that the bill would hurt business owners and needlessly frighten customers.

Mosby said he was unconcerned because the bill didn’t restrict sales.

“It’s not saying what you can sell, who can sell, or who can buy it,” he said. “It doesn’t provide an unfair competitive disadvantage to them in the city as opposed to surrounding counties.”

A similar measure was adopted in San Francisco this past summer, resulting in a federal lawsuit from the beverage industry.

After the news conference, Ellen Valentino, executive vice president of the local beverage association, told reporters that the beverage industry was already — and voluntarily — offering smaller sizes of sugary drinks and giving more prominent placement to nutritional information.

“What you have before you today is a headline grab with no promise of outcome,” she said, adding that the legislation would result in a crackdown on local businesses. “Nothing says, ‘Hey, shop here, eat here, come here’ than a warning sign at point-of-sale.”

The Sugar Association, which represents the U.S. sugar industry, also weighed in, saying in a statement that it was unfair to single out one ingredient when fats, oils and grains have also contributed substantially to an increase in the amount of calories Americans eat.