Drink Up! Judge’s Ruling Turns City Soda Ban Flat

Critics of the large soda ban instituted by the Board of Health with the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year rejoiced after a State Supreme Court justice overturned the regulation on Monday, Mar. 11, hours before it was to take effect across the city.

Bloomberg, nonetheless, vowed to appeal the ruling to a higher court, stating at a press conference Monday afternoon that imposing a limit on the amount of soda a customer can purchase is essential to fighting the obesity epidemic.

Declared “arbitrary and capricious” in a decision handed down by State Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling Jr., the ban would have prohibited most restaurants and grocery stores from selling sodas and other beverages with large amounts of sugar in more than 16 oz. containers. Beverage companies and bodegas filed a lawsuit last year to block the ban after the Board of Health voted to institute the regulation as part of the city’s Health Code.

Tingling’s decision-which came mere hours before the regulation was to take effect Tuesday, Mar. 12-declared that the ban would result in “uneven enforcement,” as it would apply to certain businesses (such as restaurants and delicatessens) and not others (such as convenient stores and bodegas). It was also noted that the regulation would have been imposed on certain soft drinks such as soda while leaving other beverages considered to be just as sugary-milkshakes, for example-unregulated.

When the soda ban was first proposed by Bloomberg and later instituted by the Board of Health, there was an outcry among residents, businesses and retail organizations who declared that the regulation would harm small businesses and infringe upon the individual rights of consumers to buy and drink whatever they want.

Among those who applauded the judge’s decision Monday was State Sen. Tony Avella, who said in a statement that the ban “just went too far,” even though “something must be done to address the growing obesity problem in this city.”

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

Chris Ginglesperger, a spokesperson for the American Beverage Association- a co-plaintiff in the case against the city-stated that the decision “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.”

“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,” Gindlesperger added.

Bloomberg, however, stated that the soda ban is designed to help the city combat obesity, which he claimed to be a contributing factor to the deaths of more than 5,000 New Yorkers annually. Obesity is known to cause a host of life-threatening diseases including heart conditions and diabetes.

“Now, the best science tells us that sugary drinks are a leading cause of obesity,” Bloomberg said at Monday’s press conference. “The Board of Health’s limit on the serving size of sugary drinks does not limit anyone’s consumption; it just requires them to think about whether they really want more than 16 ounces. … We believe it’s reasonable to draw a line-and it’s reasonable to draw a line right now. With so many people contracting diabetes and heart disease, with so may children who are overweight and obese, with so many poor neighborhoods suffering the worst of this epidemic, we believe it is reasonable and responsible to draw a line-and that is what the Board of Health has done.”

The mayor echoed those sentiments, along with other city officials, in touring businesses in Manhattan on Tuesday, Mar. 12, which opted to voluntarily adopt the soda ban. Among those who offered statements of support in a press release issued by the Mayor’s office were Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Council Members Daniel Dromm and James Gennaro.

“Cutting down on the consumption of sugary drinks is a major step in the right direction towards making New York a healthier city,” Dromm stated. “Without the mayor’s initiative to limit the size of these sugary drinks, obesity will continue to be a growing problem in our communities.”

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