This week, Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle ruled that the coffee companies hadn't defended their argument and that coffee sellers should have to warn buyers of the risks. Known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, the law requires businesses or companies to inform citizens about potential exposure to chemicals that can cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. While acrylamide can be harmful to humans, it's unclear that levels in coffee are high enough to cause any concern.
The defense argued that acrylamide wouldn't cause cancer for one or more cases for every 100,000 people, but Berle said that risk was not evaluated properly.
But one year later it rescinded the warning after it asked 23 researchers to review more than 1,000 studies in humans and animals on consumption of coffee, finding "inadequate evidence" that drinking coffee is carcinogenic. This could lead to settlements for those affected. In a court document filed in December, 7-Eleven agreed to post signs in its company and franchise stores and also pay $900,000 to cover civil penalties and the plaintiff's legal costs. "For some types of cancer, such as kidney, endometrial and ovarian cancer, the results have been mixed, but there are now no cancer types for which there is clearly an increased risk related to acrylamide intake".
State regulation allows exemptions for some uncooked foods that naturally contain the chemical, such as potatoes. Another study even suggested coffee could reduce someone's risk of death by heart disease.
CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus, director of the Westside Cancer Center at USC, says he believes it is too early to put this kind of blanket warning on coffee.
Why? It turns out the bean roasting process creates a chemical called acrylamide, a known carcinogen also common in tobacco smoke.
The World Health Organization's cancer agency moved coffee off the "possible carcinogen" list two years ago, though it says evidence is insufficient to rule out any possible role.
"Often industry has no choice but to provide a warning no matter where they are sold, whether inside or outside of California", he said. "I think you'd have to be ingesting an insane amount to have any ill effects from it", said Cara Lincoln, 32, of Greensburg.
Darlington Ibekwe, a lawyer in Los Angeles, said a cancer warning would be annoying but wouldn't stop him from treating himself to three lattes a week.
"I see it as part of California's historical, knee-jerk, "this is bad and we have to regulate it" mentality, which is not always a bad thing", said Tommy Medley, owner of the White Rabbit since it opened in late 2013.
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