Judge smothers NYC soda ban at eleventh hour

Judge smothers NYC soda ban at eleventh hour

New York City's soda ban was smothered at the eleventh hour. What's in store for Bloomberg's initiative?

Though millions of New Yorkers braced for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s soda cap, scheduled to take effect yesterday, New York State Supreme Court Justice Milton A. Tingling swooped in to smother the soda cap, citing that it was “arbitrary and capricious.”

While the judge agreed that obesity is one of the most pressing health issues for New York City—the ruling included statistics revealing that 57.5 percent of adult New York City residents overweight or obese—he thought the mayor was overstepping his legal boundaries to limit soda. The cap would “not only violate the separation of powers doctrine; it would eviscerate it,” Tingling wrote.

First proposed in June 2012, the initiative would cap portion sizes at 16 ounces at establishments that provide and sell sugary beverages (identified as non alcoholic, sugar or caloric sweetened, and greater than 25 calories per 8 fluid ounces). Refills would be allowed, so long as the cup was no larger than 16 ounces.

The New York Board of Health approved the portion cap last September with a unanimous vote of 8-0. It seemed Bloomberg’s effort to reduce sugary beverage consumption would finally be realized. Indeed, many restaurants stocked up on cap-approved containers like pint glasses in anticipation of the initiative.

But now, a legal battle is in full swing. In a press conference held at Lucky’s Café, an establishment that plans to voluntarily enact the soda cap, "Mr. Bloomberg said that 100,000 Americans die every year from obesity-related causes and that the world would be watching the fate of New York City’s restrictions on sugary drinks," reports The New York Times.

Bloomberg’s office plans to appeal Tingling’s ruling immediately, and many lawyers posit that the soda cap will end up in the Court of Appeals in Albany—a process that may extend beyond Bloomberg’s term, which ends this December.

As the soda ban heads back to the courts, we can only speculate that the debate will intensify in coming months. "I am 100 percent confident that just like smoking, this is an issue that the public has finally come to understand," added Bloomberg, according to Times.

Sugar fizzling out?

Sugar’s detrimental health effects are certainly growing more prolific in the media and the natural industry.

Just last month the Center For Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) wrote a petition urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to determine a safe level of added sugars for beverages. "Like a slow-acting but ruthlessly efficient bioweapon, sugar drinks cause obesity, diabetes and heart disease," stated CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “The FDA should require the beverage industry to re-engineer their sugary products over several years, making them safer for people to consume and less conducive to disease."

Plus, Coca-Cola’s recent advertising campaign to address obesity was much berated by public health pundits. "No consumer should be misled into thinking that the sugary-beverage giant (its heavily marketed array of 'diet' products notwithstanding) has been transformed into an obesity-fighting machine," wrote Tom Philpott.

Sugar, especially when found in beverages, is rapidly becoming a vilified substance. Indeed, Natural Products Expo West 2013 was awash in better-for-you sugar substitutes, such as stevia, monk fruit and erythritol. If a future soda cap happens to pass, will we see more of these sugar swaps?

Will New York City ever get off the sweet-drink wagon? Share your thoughts.

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