Ban on Large Sodas Rubber-Stamped by Board of Health

By Jill Colvin and Trevor Kapp  on September 13, 2012 6:54am  | Updated on September 13, 2012 7:42pm

NEW YORK CITY — Say goodbye to venti Frappuccinos, gallon movie theater slurpees and big sodas.

The city's Board of Health approved Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on large sugar-sweetened drinks at its monthly meeting Thursday morning. Eight members voted for it, and one abstained; no one voted against the proposal.

Under the plan, all restaurants, fast-food joints, delis, movie theaters, sports stadiums and even food carts will be barred from selling sugar-sweetened drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces.

“This is the single biggest step any city has ever taken to curb obesity,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a press conference after the vote. “We believe that it will help save lives.”

Obesity costs New York City $4.7 billion a year in medical costs, or $1,500 per household, and it is the second leading cause of early death in the city, after smoking, city officials said. Fifty-eight percent of New Yorkers — and 40 percent of kids in the city — are obese or overweight, officials said.

“Individuals are still free to consume sugary drinks," said Susan Kansagra, an assistant commissioner at the Department of Health. "But this proposal will limit portion size."

Members of the board praised the health benefits of limiting massive containers for sugary drinks, which make up 7 percent of Americans' diets.

"The evidence is very clear that sugary drinks are contributing to the obesity epidemic," said board member Dr. Sandro Galea.

The proposal attracted 38,000 comments from the public, with all but 6,000 in favor.

Dr. Lynne Richardson, another board member, said comments in favor of the large soda ban were "compelling and convincing.”

"I must say, the amount of comments that used the degree of hyperbole was stunning," she said of the opposition.

The limits will not apply to drinks sold in grocery stores, diet sodas, drinks that are more than 70-percent fruit juice, or those that contain alcohol.

Dairy drinks containing more than 50 percent milk will also be allowed thanks to their redeeming nutritional qualities — though that’s little solace for Frappuccino lovers since the Starbucks treats contain far less milk than that.

The plan, which requires no other authorization than the Board of Health's vote, has elicited outrage from many, including representatives of the beverage industry, which launched an aggressive million-dollar lobbying campaign against the restrictions, accusing Bloomberg of running a Nanny State.

Bubble tea purveyors and deli owners also worry the ban could severely damage business.

The only member to abstain from voting was Dr. Sixto Caro, who cited the potential hit to soda drinkers' wallets who may start buying more soda.

"Economics are a part of public health," he said before his vote to abstain.

Bloomberg has argued that the ban would be a huge blow against obesity in the city.

The mayor and Health Commissioner Thomas Farley insist the plan will eventually gain favor, just like the smoking ban in bars and restaurants.

Customers who really want more sugar-filled soda can simply order extra servings, they said.

"We've heard these claims of pending apocalypse before when we proposed bold public health initiatives, and they have been proven false," Samantha Levine, a Bloomberg spokeswoman, said in a statement.

"Critics predicted the end of tourism and that businesses would sink when we banned smoking in bars and restaurants, yet we've grown tourism to record levels and the restaurant and bar industry continues to grow," she said.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll found the large-soda ban has fallen flat with New Yorkers, with 51 percent of those polled opposed.

Restaurants will have nine months to comply with the limits before facing $200 fines.

Opponents say they are weighing their legal options.

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