Federal court blocks San Francisco warning on soda ads

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal appeals court on Thursday blocked a San Francisco law requiring health warnings on advertisements for soda and other sugary drinks in a victory for beverage and retail groups that sued to block the ordinance.

The law violates constitutionally protected commercial speech, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a unanimous ruling.

The judges granted a preliminary injunction that prevents the ordinance from taking effect and kicked the case back to a lower court.

The required warnings "offend plaintiffs' First Amendment rights by chilling protected speech," the judges wrote.

The American Beverage Association joined retail and advertising organizations to argue in court that the rules should be blocked. The groups didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on the ruling.

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Push for soda warning labels in San Francisco, California
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Push for soda warning labels in San Francisco, California
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 22: Health advocates hold signs during a rally in favor of a soda tax at San Francisco City Hall on July 22, 2014 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on Tuesday to place a measure on the November ballot for a 2-cents-per-ounce soda tax. If the measure passes in the November election, tax proceeds would help finance nutrition, health, disease prevention and recreation programs. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A woman shops down an aisle for frozen foods, sodas and other sugary drinks at a supermarket in Monterey Park, California on June 18, 2014, a day after a bill in California that would require soft drinks to have health warning labels failed to clear a key committee. Under the measure, sugary drinks sold in the most populous US state would have had to carry a label with a warning that sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay and the legislation, which would have been the first of its kind in the United States, passed the state Senate in May, but on it failed to win enough votes in the health commission of the California State Assembly on June 17, the Los Angeles Times reported. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 22: Health advocates hold signs during a rally in favor of a soda tax at San Francisco City Hall on July 22, 2014 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on Tuesday to place a measure on the November ballot for a 2-cents-per-ounce soda tax. If the measure passes in the November election, tax proceeds would help finance nutrition, health, disease prevention and recreation programs. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 22: Bottles of Pepsi are displayed in a food truck's cooler on July 22, 2014 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on Tuesday to place a measure on the November ballot for a 2-cents-per-ounce soda tax. If the measure passes in the November election, tax proceeds would help finance nutrition, health, disease prevention and recreation programs. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A woman shops for food items near a display of bottes of soda at a superrmarket in Rosemead, California on June 18, 2014, a day after a bill in California that would require soft drinks to have health warning labels failed to clear a key committee. Under the measure, sugary drinks sold in the most populous US state would have had to carry a label with a warning that sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay and the legislation, which would have been the first of its kind in the United States, passed the state Senate in May, but on it failed to win enough votes in the health commission of the California State Assembly on June 17, the Los Angeles Times reported. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 22: Various sottles of soda are displayed in a food truck's cooler on July 22, 2014 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on Tuesday to place a measure on the November ballot for a 2-cents-per-ounce soda tax. If the measure passes in the November election, tax proceeds would help finance nutrition, health, disease prevention and recreation programs. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 22: Health advocates wear t-shirts during a rally in favor of a soda tax at San Francisco City Hall on July 22, 2014 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on Tuesday to place a measure on the November ballot for a 2-cents-per-ounce soda tax. If the measure passes in the November election, tax proceeds would help finance nutrition, health, disease prevention and recreation programs. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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The law passed by San Francisco in 2015 required beverage advertisements within city limits to include warnings that drinking sugary drinks contribute to health problems.

The judges agreed that beverage companies were likely to suffer irreparable harm if the law went into effect because the warnings would drown out the ads' other visual elements.

A three-judge panel of the circuit court blocked the law in 2017. The entire 11-judge panel said last year it would rehear the case.

The law is part of an effort to reduce consumption of sweet beverages as a way to combat obesity, diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay. Cities in California and across the nation have imposed taxes on sodas and other sugary drinks.

The San Francisco city attorney's office, which argued for the law in court, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Weber reported from Los Angeles.

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Follow Weber at https://twitter.com/WeberCM and Thanawala at https://twitter.com/SudhinT

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