New York City soda law struck down

4:59 PM, Mar 11, 2013   |    comments
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By Laura Petrecca, USA TODAY

A New York State judge has halted the controversial New York City ban on large sugary drinks.

The ban was set to take effect Tuesday.

It would put a 16-ounce cap on sweetened bottled drinks and fountain beverages sold at city restaurants, delis, movie theaters, sports venues and street carts. The size limit applies to beverages that have more than 25 calories per 8 ounces. It doesn't include 100% juice drinks or beverages with more than 50% milk.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been going full force with his efforts to show the detriments of sugary drinks. On Monday, he released data that showed a correlation between sugary drink consumption and obesity.

On Sunday, Bloomberg defended the regulation. "We're not banning anything," he said on CBS' Face the Nation. "It's called portion control."

"All we're doing in New York is reminding you that it's not in your interest to have too many empty calories," he said. "You can have some. If you want to have 32 ounces, just buy two 16-ounce cups. Take them back to your seat. If you want 64 ounces, take four cups back."

But on Monday, a judge said no to the rule.

Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling wrote that loopholes "effectively defeat the stated purpose."

Bloomberg's office took to Twitter to express its disappointment in the decision.

"We plan to appeal the sugary drinks decision as soon as possible, and we are confident the measure will ultimately be upheld," it tweeted soon after the announcement.

Later, it tweeted: "We believe @nycHealthy has the legal authority and responsibility to tackle causes of the obesity epidemic, which kills 5,000 NYers a year."

Opponents were pleased.

"The court ruling provides a sigh of relief to New Yorkers and thousands of small businesses in New York City that would have been harmed by this arbitrary and unpopular ban," said Chris Gindlesperger, spokesman for the American Beverage Association and a plaintiff in the lawsuit. "With this ruling behind us, we look forward to collaborating with city leaders on solutions that will have a meaningful and lasting impact on the people of New York City."

The decision came just one day before the rule was to go into effect. Soft drink sellers across the city had taken different approaches. Some businesses bought smaller cups. Others planned to ask customers to sweeten or flavor beverages themselves.

Java giant Starbucks was taking a wait-and-see approach, planning to use the 90-day grace period that the city would have allowed to evaluate its offerings.

"I'm relieved," said Russell Levinson, general manager of Movieworld in Queens, who had also planned to wait out the 90-day grace period before making any changes. The proposed ban would have eliminated four of the five soft drink sizes he offers. He had been considering new combo deals in which a patron could buy two 16-ounce soft drinks.

The ban wouldn't affect beverages sold in grocery or convenience stores, and Levinson said that made it "terribly unfair" to the businesses that were covered.

He also worried about longer-term ramifications. The legislation had opened up "the possibility of (Bloomberg) or someone like him - or the health department - creating similar laws on candy or popcorn," he said. "It's opening up a door that can lead to the government really telling you what you can and can't drink and eat."

Gary Bennett, a psychologist and scholar of obesity at Duke University, said, "It's unlikely the beverage ban would have been effective. The rules, particularly for things like coffee drinks, were overly complicated for consumers and retailers. A host of other policy strategies - particularly a sugar-sweetened beverage tax - have greater potential to reduce the overconsumption of sugar-sweetened beverages."

The suit against the city health board and health department was brought by the New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, the New York Korean-American Grocers Association, the Soft Drink and Brewery Workers Union Local 812, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the National Restaurant Association, the National Association of Theatre Owners of New York State and the American Beverage Association.


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