By Phil Corso
Queens leaders had unyielding words for Mayor Michael Bloomberg after hearing of his intentions to ban large sugary drinks in the city, arguing that he should explore other avenues to lessen the waist size of New Yorkers.
The mayor’s proposed ban would restrict the sale of non-diet sugary drinks throughout city delis, fast-food establishments, sports arenas and more to a size no larger than 16 fluid ounces, or a typical medium-sized coffee. If approved by the city Board of Health, the restriction could go into effect as early as March 2013.
“New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something,” Bloomberg said at a news conference at City Hall. “I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”
The ban, however, would not affect the sale of diet drinks, fruit drinks, alcoholic drinks and dairy-based beverages like milk shakes. It also would not restrict the selling of such beverages in grocery or convenience stores.
The ban would also not include drinks with less than 25 calories per 8-ounce serving, such as diet sodas or unsweetened iced teas.
“The increase in sugary drink consumption is the largest single cause of the rise in calories in the American diet in the last 40 years,” Bloomberg said. “Many studies show consumption of these beverages is linked to weight gain and obesity and, more recently, diabetes and heart disease.”
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said although he agreed with the mayor’s intentions to reduce obesity in the city, moving to ban large sugary drinks completely was an example of what he called nanny government.
“You can’t legislate human behavior,” Avella said.
Avella said the mayor had other options if he wanted to reduce obesity, such as starting with the youth and saving the highly contested defunding of the city’s Beacon after-school programs.
“These are the kinds of programs that provide exercise for kids, which would really help combat obesity,” Avella said.
City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) said the mayor should leave the small, medium and large decisions to city dwellers.
“Like everyone else, I am concerned about the health of New Yorkers, but it isn’t the government’s job to tell people how much food or drink they are allowed to consume,” Halloran said.
Halloran said he and Councilman Oliver Koppell (D-Bronx) were planning to circulate a petition throughout the Council to prevent the proposal from going into effect.
“This ‘law’ is embarrassingly easy to get around. All you have to do is go to a different store and buy another small drink, which would add up to more than 16 ounces,” Halloran said. “If anyone wants to continue drinking large sodas, this pointless law won’t stop them.”
Bloomberg has stood firm in face of harsh criticism after he proposed enacting a ban on the selling of large sodas and sugary drinks in the city, contending that consumers will be thanking him in the long run.
“Bold actions to protect the public’s health always stir controversy at first,” Bloomberg said. “Smoke-free bars and restaurants, trans fat restriction and calorie posting in restaurants were all met with skepticism, but are now widely popular in New York City.”
The motion was met with the common criticism that Bloomberg’s intentions furthered a “nanny state” in the city. An ad in Saturday’s New York Times showed the mayor’s head superimposed onto a photo of a nanny-like woman wearing a blue dress and scarf.
But the measure did not receive all negative reviews. In a statement on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight,” former President Bill Clinton spoke in favor of the beverage bust.
“I think he’s doing the right thing,” Clinton said. “I know a lot of people think, ‘This is a nanny state’ but there are very serious problems. Diabetes is basically too much sugar in the body — we can’t process it all.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.