Bill that would require labels for sugar-sweetened beverages receives major support

Sugar Free Kids Maryland joined the Baltimore City Health Department in testifying in front of the Baltimore City Council's Health committee in support of a bill that would require warning labels for sugar sugar-sweetened beverages in advertisements, restaurant menus and any city stores that sell those products. (WBFF)

BALTIMORE (WBFF) -- Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen was joined by a coalition of health advocates Tuesday in calling on the City Council to pass legislation which would require warning labels for sugar-sweetened beverages on advertisements, restaurant menus and vending machines.

The warning labels would also be for sweetened coffee drinks, sweetened teas and sports drinks.

If enacted, Baltimore would become the second city in the U.S. and first on the East Coast to require warning labels for sugar-sweetened beverages.

Dr. Wen says the campaign is to better educate parents about the hazards of such drinks.

"They see the advertisements with sports stars and superstars and they're not seeing how dangerous these drinks can be," said Dr. Wen who testified before the City Council's Health Committee.

She says, "One in three of our children here in Baltimore City are overweight or obese. The number one, two, three killer in Baltimore City are not violence, they're not drugs, they are due to heart disease and stroke which are then fueled by diabetes."

Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat who represents the Baltimore area, appeared at a news conference outside of Baltimore City Hall Tuesday to support the legislation.

Cummings says, "Information is power. All we're trying to do is inform people so that they can then make the right decision for their families."

But the warning labels are opposed by many retailers and restaurants who call it government intrusion into what should be a personal decision."

Cailey Locklair Tolle, President of the Maryland Retailers Association, says "It starts with our parents, it starts with education, it starts with physical activity, that's what our industry firmly believes."

Retailers are also disturbed by the penalties for those who fail to post warning signs for sugary drinks.

"Criminal penalties, you can be charged with a misdemeanor if you do not post one of these signs," said Locklair Tolle.

She adds, "So at every cash register that we have, we would have to post one of these signs which can truly be embarrassing for our consumers who have made a decision to purchase a product and are being publicly shamed for doing so."

But Dr. Wen says "For us, this is about education to level the playing field. We want to make sure that parents have all the information possible to make the best choices for their kids."

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