Elation, Indignation Following Block of NYC Ban

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg

A judge’s decision to invalidate New York City’s ban on the sale of large sugary drinks had opponents of the measure euphorically cheering the ruling, while supporters of the ban, and, in particular, Mayor Michael Bloomberg were left exasperated and vowing an appeal.

On Monday, Justice Milton A. Tingling Jr. of New York’s State Supreme Court blocked the city’s scheduled ban on the sale of highly sugar-sweetened beverages in on-premise retailers. The ban was initially proposed by Bloomberg and passed in October by the city’s Board of Health, which cited growing research that links soda and other highly sugared drinks to rising rates of obesity. The measure was scheduled to go into effect on Tuesday and would have prohibited the sale of drinks that have more than 25 calories per 8 oz. serving in containers larger than 16 oz. in a range of retailers, including restaurants, delis and movie theatres.

Yet while Judge Tingling noted that the Board of Health has a responsibility to protect residents from illness and disease, he ruled that the agency does not have the power to “limit or ban a legal item under the guise of ‘controlling chronic disease.’” Moreover, because the ban would not affect businesses regulated by the state, which include grocery and convenience stores, Judge Tingling stated that measure would result in “uneven enforcement even within a particular city block, much less the city as a whole.”

Last Fall, the American Beverage Association (ABA), a trade group representing the beverage industry,  along with several other industry groups, sued the city and launched a torrid public relations campaign aimed at discrediting the logic behind the ban. The ABA issued a statement on Monday that praised the decision.

“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,” the ABA said in its statement. “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 National Restaurant Association (NRA), which sided with the ABA in filing a lawsuit challenging the ban, was elated with the judge’s decision to overturn the ban, and indicated that it was ready to work with the city on new health initiative and programs.

“This is a great victory, particularly for thousands of restaurant operators and industry suppliers serving New York City who would have experienced financial hardships had the ban been enacted,” said Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “We look forward to working with public health officials to engage in a constructive dialogue that will have a positive and sustained impact on the people of New York City.”

While the ABA and NRA expressed rather cordial opinions about the ruling, the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), an organization that – according to its website – is “dedicated to protecting consumer choices and promoting common sense,” pulled no punches in its wrath for ban and delight at its repeal.

“Bloomberg’s big idea is nothing more than a meaningless trial balloon to see if he can establish a precedent and then find a bigger target such as the sizes of pizza,” said J. Justin Wilson, CCF Senior Research Analyst.

Noting that other cities around have country have considered sugar drink bans along the same lines as New York City’s proposal, Wilson said that “legislators around the country should think twice before considering similar legislation, as food and drink bans or taxes do little to slim down residents or improve a politician’s popularity.”

Although Bloomberg has long been a relatively popular politician among constituents of New York City, a majority of the city’s voters indicated that they were not in favor of the measure. A Quinnipiac University poll released in February found that 51 percent of New York voters opposed the drink ban. Among black voters, 60 percent indicated that they were against the planned action.

Nevertheless, at a Monday afternoon press conference Bloomberg appeared before a throng of national and local media reporters determined to continue pressing for the ban. Strident and unapologetic, Bloomberg said that his administration believes that Judge Tingling was “totally in error in the way he interpreted the law and we’re very confident that we will win on appeal.”

“As far as we have come, there is one public health crisis that has grown worse and worse over the years, and that is obesity,” Bloomberg said. “Five thousand people will die of obesity this year in New York. The best science tells us that sugary drinks are a cause of obesity.”

“We believe it’s reasonable to draw a line and draw a line right now,” he continued. “It would be irresponsible not to do everything we can to save lives.