Baltimore City could become the first jurisdiction on the East Coast to require warning labels for sugary drinks.
The Baltimore City Council’s Health Committee held a hearing Tuesday afternoon on a bill requiring warning labels for sugar-sweetened drinks on advertisements, restaurant menus and in any point of sale in the city where the products are sold. The health warning would say: "WARNING: DRINKING BEVERAGES WITH ADDED SUGAR(S) CONTRIBUTES TO TOOTH DECAY, OBESITY, AND DIABETES. THIS MESSAGE IS FROM THE BALTIMORE CITY HEALTH DEPARTMENT."
Chambers is full, there's an overflow room & people are being told they can't come in. Huge turnout from both sides pic.twitter.com/XZ9FgledNI
— Catherine Hawley (@CatherineABC2) June 7, 2016
City Health Commissioner Leana Wen testified in favor of the bill, along with former NFL player and Baltimore native Aaron Maybin, as well as other city leaders and health officials. Supporters argue the sugary drinks are a key contributor to childhood obesity in the city.
"There is no nutrition whatsoever, they are empty calories and it's the one thing we can do to prevent our children from having a lifetime of disease and illness," said Wen.
The possible changes come as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is preparing to make its first label changes in 20 years.
ABC News reported last month that the new labels will include a new line for added sugar like high-fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners. Added sugar will be represented in both grams and percent daily value.
Not everyone is in favor of the pending city legislation.
Ellen Valentino with the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Beverage Association said it sends a negative message to consumers and tourists.
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The Sugar Association’s President and CEO, Dr. Courtney Gaine testified against the legislation, saying there are negative consequences to this approach.
Gaine said the American diet has increased by over 500 calories per day with only 34 of these calories from added sugars. Grains and fats have driven the increase in calories, she testified.
She also pointed out the bill says 25 percent of Baltimore kids drink a soda or more a day, yet almost half of all children are overweight or obese.
"This means that 75 percent of children are not drinking soda in Baltimore and at least 25 percent of overweight kids are not drinking )caloric sweetened beverages)," Gaine said. "Given that kids get 95 percent of their calories from other sources, a warning label on CSBs will give the “green light” to all other sources of calories regardless of nutritional value or energy density. This will not help, and could hurt, the obesity problem."
Restaurant and business owners across the city are firing back, saying the labels will slap them with added costs.
"It's gonna be an expense for us because we're going to have to change our menus and write things on boards," said Maria Vaccaro, owner of Vaccaro's Italian Pastries.
Eateries and companies on board with the proposed legislation say the signs won't be a burden, and people will buy what they want to buy.
"They need to learn nutrition first, nutrition needs to be taught and I do believe these labels may help," Antoine and Miss Dot's Moon Blue Sandwich Shop Owner, Antoine Dow said. "At the end of the day I think people are gonna do what they want to do, you know what I mean, it's all about choice."