Health warning labels vs. the First Amendment

March 22, 2019 - 3:30 am

By Amy E. Feldman, Judge Technology Solutions

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Turns out, eating sugar leads to obesity.  

Sugar — yeah, that's exactly the response that the health advocates in San Francisco want to moderate. Officials are trying to require warning labels on sugary drinks that say sugar-sweetened beverages lead to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.  

The beverage industry sued, and the Court of Appeals just agreed that making them put a warning label on soda violates the First Amendment. But then how can the FDA require warnings on cigarette cartons?  

The First Amendment protects an individual's right to speak freely and to refrain from speaking, but commercial entities don't have the same rights. The government can force them to have warning labels — it's called compelled commercial speech — so long as the warning is factual and uncontroversial.

And companies don't have to put warnings that imply the existence of dangers that haven't been conclusively proven. Since the court said that the FDA considers sugar safe to consume, it said no to the warning labels.   

I'll drink a cup of sugar to that.