New York judge stops ban on big sodas
Updated: 2013-03-13 09:52
New Yorkers were still free to gulp from huge sugary drinks on Tuesday, after a judge struck down the city's pioneering ban on supersized sodas just hours before it was supposed to take effect, handing a defeat to health conscious Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The big drinks ban - the first of its kind in the US - sparked reaction from city streets to late-night TV talk shows, celebrated by some as a bold attempt to improve people's health and derided by others as another "nanny state" law from Bloomberg during his 11 years in office.
State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling's Monday ruling was seen as a victory for the beverage industry, restaurants and other business groups that called the rule unfair and wrong-headed.
Tingling said the half liter limit on sodas and other sweet drinks arbitrarily applies to only some sugary beverages and some places that sell them. Tingling issued a 36-page ruling that examined the appropriate scope of power for an administrative board for regulations. The judge also said the Bloomberg-appointed Board of Health intruded on the City Council's authority when it imposed the rule.
The drinks limit follows other efforts Bloomberg has made to improve New Yorkers' eating habits, including compelling chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus, barring artificial trans fats in restaurant food, and prodding food manufacturers to use less salt. The city has successfully defended some of those initiatives in court.
Bloomberg, who has championed the ban as a novel measure for fighting obesity, vowed to appeal the decision.
"We believe the judge is totally in error in how he interpreted the law, and we are confident we will win on appeal," Bloomberg said. He added: "One of the cases we will make is that people are dying every day. This is not a joke. Five thousand people die of obesity every day in America."
"I am trying to do what is right to save lives. Obesity kills," a visibly angry Bloomberg told reporters.
"Sugary drinks are a leading cause of obesity. We have a responsibility as human beings to do something, to save each other," he added.
The city has also won fights over outlawing smoking in bars and offices, and has promoted breast-feeding over formula. Last week, the Bloomberg administration announced a campaign to warn young people they risk hearing loss from cranked-up earphones.
Because of the limits of city authority and exemptions made for other reasons, the ban on supersized beverages doesn't cover alcoholic drinks or many lattes and other milk-based concoctions, and it doesn't apply at supermarkets or many convenience stores.
In defending the rule, city officials point to the city's rising obesity rate - about 24 percent of adults, up from 18 percent in 2002 - and to studies tying sugary drinks to weight gain. Care for obesity-related illnesses costs government health programs about $2.8 billion a year in New York City alone, according to city Health Commissioner Dr Thomas Farley.