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New Soda Ban Would Outlaw Super-Sized Sugary Drinks

By Jill Colvin | May 31, 2012 6:54am
Mayor Bloomberg wants to ban sugary drinks more than 16 ounces in restaurants, delis and movie theaters.
Mayor Bloomberg wants to ban sugary drinks more than 16 ounces in restaurants, delis and movie theaters.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

NEW YORK CITY — New Yorkers may be saying sayonara to that super-size soda.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is planning an outright ban on large, sugar-sweetened beverages in eateries across the city in his most sweeping assault on calories yet.

The amendment to the city’s health code would bar restaurants, fast-food joints, delis, movie theaters, sports stadiums and even food carts from selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces — smaller than a standard bottle of soda, administration officials said.

“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’” Bloomberg said in an interview with The New York Times.

“New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something,” he added. “I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”

The planned restrictions, which could take effect as soon as March, would cover all sugar-filled beverages, including fountain drinks, bottled sodas, teas and juices sold at any location that receives a letter grade from the city's Health Department.

The ban would not apply to diet sodas, teas or fruit drinks with fewer than 25 calories per 8 ounces, drinks that are at least 70-percent fruit or vegetable juice, alcoholic beverages, or dairy-based drinks, including sweetened lattes and milkshakes, which were deemed to have nutritional value.

Administration officials said the plan does not need City Council approval and will be submitted to the Board of Health in less than two weeks, on June 12. It will be voted on three months later, following a public comment period.

Once approved, restaurants would have nine months to comply before being slapped with $200 fines.

Bloomberg has made improving public health a centerpiece of his agenda, barring trans fats in restaurants, forcing chains to post calorie counts on their menus, prohibiting smoking in bars, restaurants and city parks, and launching a graphic ad campaign warning of the dangers of obesity.

More than half of city adults and nearly 40 percent of public school kids are overweight or obese, according to the administration, which argues that sugary drinks that have been increasing in size over the decades are squarely to blame.

But the New York City Beverage Association strongly disagreed.

“There they go again,” said spokesman Stefan Friedman, who said that soda has been unfairly blamed for rising obesity rates, even though consumption has been falling and healthier options have grown more popular.

“The New York City Health Department’s unhealthy obsession with attacking soft drinks is again pushing them over the top,” he explained.

“These zealous proposals just distract from the hard work that needs to be done on this front."

New Yorkers, meanwhile, were shocked to hear about the plan to slash serving sizes, slamming it as yet another intrusion by Bloomberg's "nanny state."

"That's crazy," said Kris Ramos, 21, a college student from East Harlem, after pouring himself a giant "Big Gulp" at 7-Eleven, which would not be covered by the ban, since it is considered a convenience store, not a deli.

"I think it's your own opinion. You should be able to buy what you want to buy," he said of the plan.

Marvin Pressley, who lives on the Upper East Side, agreed that Bloomberg had gone too far in his war against smoking and sugar, calling on him to rethink the plan.

"It just seems that more and more of our rights are being infringed on," said Pressley, 60, who argued that even diet drinks have drawbacks, since they're full of chemicals.

Either way, he said, the decision should be the consumer's.

"That's my choice if I want to be obese or fat or healthy," he said.

But Fred Sanford, 24, who also lives on the Upper East Side, sided with the mayor.

"I think it's a little excessive to drink anything that big," he said.