NYC Reacts to Big Soda Ban Defeat

A revival of the big-soda ban rests with City Council, but the speaker is a staunch opponent
June 26, 2014 9:18 pm Last Updated: June 26, 2014 9:18 pm

NEW YORK—The Bloomberg era plan to ban large sugary drinks in this city was struck down in the state’s highest court Thursday, but Mayor Bill de Blasio indicated that the fight over the big soda ban is far from over.

The Court of Appeals said that the city’s Board of Health engaged in lawmaking when it issued the ban, which is really the jurisdiction of City Council. The board’s Portion Cap Rule was to go into effect in March 2013, effectively banning sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces from restaurants, delis, movie theaters, stadiums, and street carts.

De Blasio said on Thursday, “The city is actively reviewing all of its options.” The city has exhausted its options in courts, since the Supreme Court will not rule on local issues. Given the judge’s ruling, the chief route is clearly to make the ban a New York City law through the City Council. And therein lies the problem.

Whereas de Blasio has been a long-term supporter of the plan, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is a staunch opponent.

The two had little to disagree on during their first seven months of tenure. Mark-Viverito and the City Council delivered on de Blasio’s campaign promises. They passed the paid sick leave law in February and on Thursday voted to authorize the creation of a municipal ID card. But the progressive darlings surfaced as polar opposites on the big soda ban when the court issued its ruling.

“We are extremely disappointed by today’s court decision that prevents the city from implementing a sugary drink portion cap policy,” de Blasio said.

“New Yorkers deserve a comprehensive approach to public health that will support healthy eating and increase access to fresh food instead of punitive policies,” Mark-Viverito said.

Nevertheless, the speaker said that council will hold a hearing if a big soda ban is proposed, an indication that the bill would not be trapped in committee.

“If this proposal or other similarly aimed proposals are introduced in the council they will be given full consideration by the health committee,” Council member Corey Johnson, the chair of the health committee, said.

Contentious History

The soda ban was fraught with contention from the start. Debate ignited between health advocates who saw it as a tool to address the obesity epidemic and critics who said it was unfair to businesses and paternalistic toward consumers.

Meanwhile, two out of three New Yorkers opposed the ban in a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in 2012. Now, two years after the poll, New Yorkers greeted the court’s ruling with mixed feelings.

“I think it’s up to the individual” what size of soft drink to buy, said Constance Jong, a cashier in her 20s.

But Hazel Plunkett, a 51-year-old fundraiser for a public health group, was disappointed that the regulation remains blocked.

“I don’t mind the controversy over it. It’s got to get people’s attention,” she said.

Health advocates have assailed sodas for years as deceptively harmful since they contain a high amount of high fructose corn syrup, a sugar substitute with proven potential for harm. A 30-ounce Coca Cola from McDonalds contains 76 grams of sugar, or nearly one-third of a cup.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the sugary drink ban a centerpiece of his otherwise successful health agenda, which included banning indoor smoking and imposing the highest cigarette tax in the nation.

“Due to today’s unfortunate ruling, more people in New York City will die from obesity-related impacts, and the number of annual obesity-related deaths will soon surpass deaths caused by smoking,” Bloomberg said in a statement on Thursday.