NYC Mayor Bloomberg Enacts Soda Ban; American Beverage Association Promises “Full Court Press”

The American Beverage Association reached out to members last night to assure them of a “full court press” from legal, communications and advocacy channels to battle a ban on the sale of large containers of sugar-sweetened beverages in New York City.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg officially proposed the ban during a City Hall briefing this morning, but word leaked out last night, at which time the ABA sent an e-mail to members stating it would “challenge this latest example of government overreach.”

The ban is a gambit based on an interpretation of the powers of the New York City Department of Health as a vehicle for preserving the safety of the citizens of the city. It’s a route Bloomberg followed previously in banning trans-fats from restaurants in the city.

The ban would prevent the sale of sugary beverages like CSDs, teas, and juice drinks containing more than 25 calories per 8 oz. serving in packages larger than 16 ounces.  Diet drinks, drinks getting half of their calories from dairy or dairy substitutes, alcoholic drinks and 100 percent juices would be free from the ban.

The new regulation could severely remake the shelves of many key retailers for brand-building in Manhattan; for example, some of the best-selling skus of full-calorie vitaminwater, Coke or Pepsi are 20 oz. PET bottles that all exceed the proposed caloric threshold; so do AriZona Iced Teas, many of which come in 24 oz. pre-priced $.99 cans, as well as many other beverages.

The Department of Health oversees restaurants and other food service outlets like movie theatres, stadiums, fast food restaurants, hot dog carts, and delis; grocery stores, bodegas, drug stores and other retail channels that do not serve or prepare food would not be affected.

Members of the Board of Health announced the proposal along with the Mayor; the new regulations could take effect by March.

“It seems like it has a pretty good chance of passing, since he appointed everyone and the Chair appeared at the press conference with him,” said Justin Prochnow, an attorney who works with the beverage industry on regulatory matters.

Bloomberg said he believes that sugary drinks have contributed a significant amount to the fact that half of New Yorkers are overweight or obese. On Wednesday night, Bloomberg told the New York Times that he thought the ban was “what the public wants the mayor to do.” In fact, Bloomberg has tried to act on that idea repeatedly during the past year, first supporting a “soda tax” in the New York State Legislature and then attempting to ban the use of food stamps for the purchase of CSDs, which was disallowed by federal authorities.

In addition to its national leader’s private email, the proposal was quickly derided publicly by the New York City arm of the ABA, which called the health department proposal “over the top.”

Members of the beverage industry itself considered the proposal to be another in a series of what have been called “nanny state” regulations enacted by Bloomberg; in addition to the repeated attempts to cut down on beverage calorie consumption, the administration has also extended smoking bans and conducted advertising campaigns against soda.

“Are we in Communist China?” said one highly-placed beverage industry executive.