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Soda war looms as judge blocks NYC ban on large sugary drinks

March 11, 2013|By Tina Susman

NEW YORK -- A judge Monday blocked implementation of New York City's restriction on the sale of large, sugary sodas a day before the law was to take effect, setting the stage for a showdown with the city as Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed to appeal the ruling.

"We plan to appeal the sugary drinks decision as soon as possible, and we are confident the measure will ultimately be upheld," the mayor's office tweeted, shortly after Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling issued his ruling in Manhattan.

Tingling's decision marks at least a temporary victory for the beverage industry, which had argued that the law passed in September unfairly targeted certain businesses while letting others sell drinks of any size.

The law would limit to 16 ounces the size of sodas and other sugary drinks sold in food-service establishments such as restaurants and delis that are regulated by the city. It also would affect concessionaires at cinemas and in stadiums. But it would not affect state-regulated establishments that sell giant drinks, such as corner markets and grocery stores.

The city's Board of Health, whose members are appointed by Bloomberg, easily approved the rule after two days of public hearings. Businesses caught violating the law could have faced a $200 fine.

Bloomberg says the rule will help curb obesity among New Yorkers. But Tingling cited its "uneven enforcement" as a problem and said such "loopholes" undermine the goal of training consumers to drink smaller sodas. Lawyers representing the beverage industry said the rule also took away the basic human right to consume large drinks.

The  American Beverage Assn. hailed the ruling Monday.

“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," it said in a 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.”

New York became the first city in the nation to pass such a rule, and it followed several other measures pushed by Bloomberg as part of his effort to improve New Yorkers' health. In 2008, the city became the first major urban area to require large restaurant chains to include calorie counts on menus.

In 2011, it banned smoking in most public areas, including beaches, parks, and pedestrian plazas. And in 2006,  New York passed the first law requiring restaurants to drastically cut the use of artificial trans fats in prepared food. 

According to the city, 58% of New Yorkers are overweight or obese, and nearly 40% of public school children in the city are overweight or obese.

Bloomberg and the deputy mayor for health and human services, Linda Gibbs, on Monday released data that they said underscored the need for what has become known here as the "soda ban."

According to statistics compiled by the city,  nine of the 10 top neighborhoods with the highest obesity rates citywide also consume the most sugary drinks.  The least-obese neighborhoods consumed the fewest such drinks, according to the New York City Community Health Survey.

"This new data is the latest evidence that sugary drinks are helping to drive the obesity epidemic, which falls hardest on low-income communities,” Bloomberg said. “Obesity is killing more than 5,000 New Yorkers each year and demands bold steps to fight this crisis."

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tina.susman@latimes.com

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