Judge strikes down NYC soda ban, NY NAACP president responds

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Bloomberg believes "momentum is moving" on the soda ban despite recent opposition from judges.

A judge has struck down a ban restricting the size of sodas sold in certain establishments in New York City that was set to go into effect Tuesday. The “soda ban,” as it is colloquially known, was instituted by the New York City Board of Health, a body appointed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling ruled in Manhattan on Monday that the ban was invalid in part because the Board of Health does not have the power to regulate portion sizes as a means of curbing obesity. Sugary drinks, such as soda, have been linked to obesity in numerous studies.

The edict would have restricted the largest soda portion to 16 ounces when sold at retailers controlled by the city, such as convenience stores and restaurants, in an effort to reduce obesity. The city claims obesity-related illnesses cost approximately $4.7 billion a year. Outlets such as 7-Elevens and grocery stores were exempt from the ban, because they are regulated by the state.

The judge invalidated the ban in part because it applied “to some but not all food establishments in the City, it excludes other beverages that have significantly higher concentrations of sugar sweeteners and/or calories,” and contains loopholes such as not limiting re-fills. The judge believes these elements “serve to gut the purpose” of the ban, according to his brief. Tingling also stated that the board had overstepped its jurisdiction, which is limited to immediately threatening illnesses.

The New York State chapter of the NAACP filed a brief in January with the Hispanic Federation in support of efforts to overturn the ban, joining forces with the American Beverage Association. The civil rights organization faced some backlash for siding with the soda industry, as many cited that blacks in New York City suffer from obesity-related illnesses more than any other group.

NAACP state chapter president Hazel N. Dukes countered that the soda ban as designed by the Bloomberg administration is not the comprehensive approach needed to end the pernicious effects of obesity. Dukes supports the judge’s ruling, and hopes the invalidation of the ban will create what she sees as better avenues for improving minority health.

“I think it’s a great day for us to rethink how we fight obesity in a real way,” Dukes told theGrio in a phone interview. “What I’m really hoping for is that the mayor, the citizens of New York, and health professionals can come [together for] a holistic approach to fighting obesity. We need to stop just looking at one thing, which is the sugary drinks. We need to sit down and talk about all of the issues that help prevent obesity. The sugary drinks are just one.”

The NAACP and Hispanic Federation fought the ban in part because businesses in minority communities would have been disproportionately affected, according to their brief.

According to The Wall Street Journal, spokesman for the American Beverage Association, Chris Gindlesperger, approved the ruling as a “sigh of relief to New Yorkers and thousands of small businesses in New York City that would have been harmed by this arbitrary and unpopular ban.”

The Office of the Mayor plans to fight the judge’s ruling. In a press conference held this evening, Mayor Bloomberg affirmed that the “best science tells us sugary drinks are a leading cause of obesity in America.” In stating his intention to fight the decision allowing larger sodas to be sold, Bloomberg mentioned examples during the press conference in which similar rulings had been overturned in the name of public health.

“We plan to appeal the decision as soon as possible, and we are confident the Board of Health’s decision will ultimately be upheld,” the city’s top lawyer,  Michael A. Cardozo, said in response to the invalidation of the soda ban. “This measure is part of the City’s multi-pronged effort to combat the growing obesity epidemic, which takes the lives of more than 5,000 New Yorkers every year, and we believe the Board of Health has the legal authority — and responsibility — to tackle its leading causes.”

The national chapter of the NAACP deferred to the New York State chapter as “the appropriate outlet for comment” on this development.

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.

This article has been updated.