Judge Halts New York City Soda Ban
A state judge on Monday stopped Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration from banning the sale of large sugary drinks at New York City restaurants and other venues, a major defeat for a mayor who has made public-health initiatives a cornerstone of his tenure.
The city is “enjoined and permanently restrained from implementing or enforcing the new regulations,” New York Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling decided Monday.
The regulations are “fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences,” the judge wrote. “The simple reading of the rule leads to the earlier acknowledged uneven enforcement even within a particular city block, much less the city as a whole….the loopholes in this rule effectively defeat the state purpose of the rule.”
Under the first-of-its-kind prohibition approved by the city Board of Health last year, establishments from restaurants to mobile food carts would have been prohibited from selling sugary drinks larger than 16 oz. After a three-month grace period, the city would have started fining violators $200 per sale.
The city rules, set to take effect on March 12, didn’t include convenience stores, such as 7-Elevens, and supermarkets, both of which are regulated by the state government.
In his ruling, Judge Tingling found the Board of Health’s mission is to protect New Yorkers by providing regulations that prevent and protect against diseases. Those powers, he argued, don’t include the authority to “limit or ban a legal item under the guise of ‘controlling chronic disease.’ ”
The board may supervise and regulate the city’s food supply when it affects public health, but the City Charter clearly outlines when such steps may be taken: According to Judge Tingling, the city must face imminent danger due to disease.
“That has not been demonstrated,” he wrote.
Judge Tingling also suggested that Mr. Bloomberg overstepped his powers by bringing the sugary drink rules before the Board of Health, which is solely appointed by him. The City Council, he wrote, is the legislative body “and it alone has the authority to legislate as the board seeks to do here.”
Across New York City, restaurants, bars and movie theaters had already started bracing for the change.
Brother Jimmy’s BBQ, a chain with five locations in the city, had already ordered 1,000 new glasses for soft drinks at their five New York City locations. The restaurants serve soda in 24-oz. glasses, CEO Josh Lebowitz said earler this month—8 oz. more than city’s new rules.
The anti-obesity effort to limit sales of sugary drinks was one of a number of ambitious public-health initiatives Mr. Bloomberg has launched since taking office in 2002.
He first prohibited smoking in bars, which proved to be one of his most popular achievements despite initial resistance. By 2008, the city stopped restaurants from using all but trace amounts of transfats, and Mr. Bloomberg recently won some success in convincing global food companies to lower the amount of sodium in prepackaged products.
Limiting the size of sugary drinks, however, wasn’t proving as popular with voters. “He always tells us what to do. It’s not just about soda,” said Dante Nero, who was drinking a large cola while having lunch with a friend Monday at Dallas BBQ in the East Village of Manhattan.
“It ridiculous to put this kind of money and legislation into something that people are going to find a way to bypass,” said Mr. Nero, 46 years old, of Brooklyn.
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