“Arbitrary and capricious:” with these words, Justice Milton A. Tingling Jr. of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan invalidated the much-publicized ban on large-size sugary drinks in New York City that has been a central feature of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s public health initiatives.
The rule was to go in effect on Tuesday, March 12; Justice Tingling blocked the ban just one day before and gave the Bloomberg administration — which had even announced on Monday that the new rule should be applied nationally to reduce obesity rates — something of a shock.
The ban, announced in May of 2011, had put the beverage industry (quaking at the thought of losing millions of dollars) on the defensive. The proposed ban in New York City has been closely watched. Officials in other cities including Los Angeles have also been considering similar bans and some states (Hawaii, Nebraska) are considering taxes on soda sales.
Justice Tingling’s objections were based on what he described as inconsistencies about where the ban was to apply and what sorts of drinks would fall under it. Restaurants, food carts, movie theaters and bowling allies were to adhere to the “no big sugary drink” rule, but not convenience stores and grocery stores which are beyond the city health department’s purview. While large-sized containers of soda were to be banned, beverages with what Justice Tingling said were “significantly higher concentrations of sugar sweeteners and/or calories” than these — such as certain coffee-and-milk drinks — were exempt. Under the ban, customers would still be allowed to get a soda refill so long as the cup was no larger than 16 ounces and thereby “defeat and/or serve to gut the purpose the rule.”
In addition, the justice ruled that, by going through the health department instead of through the city council to institute the ban, Bloomberg had overstepped his executive powers.
A lawyer from Latham & Watkins, the international firm representing the beverage industry, commented that “scientists in the room, working with the mayor, [are] creating a regulation here that is going to cost people a ton of money.”
The lawyer’s words were meant to mock what is called a “ludicrous” soda ban. But, in a funny way, his comment is too accurate. Scientific studies have linked sugary drinks to obesity and Bloomberg has seized on these in his efforts to make New Yorkers healthier. Yes, the beverage industry stood to lose a “ton of money” from the ban but plenty of people are also paying plenty to deal with diabetes, high blood pressure and other health problems linked to obesity.
To get a good idea of why we need to place limits on supersize sugary drinks, check out this infographic about “The National Sugar Rush.”
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