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Queens pols blast soda ban

New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, accompanied by Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs, addresses a news conference at New York’s City Hall, Thursday, May 31, 2012. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing a ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks in the city’s restaurants, delis and movie theaters in the hopes of combating obesity, an expansion of his administration’s efforts to encourage healthy behavior by limiting residents’ choices. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
AP Photo/Richard Drew
By Karen Frantz

After the city Board of Health last Thursday passed the so-called soda ban, which would limit the size of sugary drinks in many venues to 16 ounces, City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) decried the controversial rule as the mayor was lauding its passage.

Halloran, who has been a vocal opponent of the ban, called the decision “arbitrary and capricious” and pointed out a number of its loopholes.

“We still have choices. We can take our snack business away from the corner mom-and-pop deli to supermarkets and franchise convenience stores,” he said. “We can miss more of the movie or more of the game to wait [in line] a second time. We can buy a second 12-ounce can rather than a single 20-ounce bottle. That’s 120 percent of the soda, but the mayor has his own math.”

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said that while he agreed something must be done to address the city’s growing obesity problem, he thinks the rule goes too far.

“There are surely other ways to curb obesity rates in this city that do not involve infringing on an individual’s personal choices,” he said. Today the mayor is saying you can’t have a big soda. What’s next?

He said Mayor Michael Bloomberg should be more focused on more pressing issues such as school budgets and affordable housing.

“As residents receive less and less city services, they need initiatives that will produce real, tangible results, not gimmicks like the soda ban,” Avella said.

The soda rule is a first-of-its-kind measure that will limit the size of sugary drinks in any establishment that requires a city Department of Health grade, including restaurants, movie theaters and sports arenas. It will not apply to alcoholic beverages, fruit juice or milk-based drinks.

Bloomberg has said the ban will help curb the costs of treating obesity-related ailments, which he says is $4 billion per year.

“NYC’s new sugary drink policy is the single biggest step any government has taken to curb obesity,” the mayor, who proposed the rule, said in a tweet. “It will help save lives.”

Other supporters such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest have also pointed out that soda and other sugary drinks provide more calories than any other source in the American diet.

The ban will take effect March 12, 2013, but the city will not begin fining vendors who violate the ban until mid-June.

The Board of Health passed the rule in a vote of 8-0, with one member abstaining, one member absent and one vacancy on the board.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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