NAACP New York State president on its opposition to NYC soda ban: 'There's an unfairness to this'

The New York State chapter of the NAACP has joined the American Beverage Association to fight the New York City soda ban — in a move arousing controversy. The ban, should it go into effect on March 12, would limit soda portions sold at certain establishments to 16 ounces in New York City. The NAACP state chapter filed a joint brief with the Hispanic Federation opposing it, as both groups say the measure unfairly targets small businesses in communities of color while attempting to fight obesity.

Others, such as New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, believe these groups have sold out the people they are charged to protect through siding with the soda industry.

Hazel N. Dukes, president of the New York State chapter of the NAACP, disagrees. “What we are saying in the brief that was filed is that there is an unfairness to this,” she told theGrio in a phone interview, referring to a quirk that exempts some of the entities selling the largest soda portions from the ban.

Mayor Bloomberg developed the ban with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, whose jurisdiction is limited to Food Service Establishments (FSEs) in the area of portion size policy. Only bodegas, restaurants, and other establishments defined as FSEs face the cap.

Businesses that are not FSEs, such as 7-Eleven, are controlled by the state. As the home of the Big Gulp, which starts at 20 ounces, 7-Eleven’s exemption is seen as a loophole by Dukes that punishes minorities without resolving the problem.

“If you are just going at certain parts, which is mom and pop stores and bodegas, you are hurting them economically,” Dukes said of the regulation. “I’ve lost family members, my father died from obesity, so no one has to tell us about obesity. When I walk in the store, the first thing I see is a shelf of sodas in the grocery store,” which is not considered an FSE according to statutes.

Despite this, Mayor Bloomberg staunchly criticized the NAACP for its opposition. “[T]he kids who are most obese and [for whom] a cup size limitation would do the most good, tend to be in poor neighborhoods, which in New York tends to be minority neighborhoods,” Bloomberg said during WOR’s Live from City Hall with Mayor Mike and John Gambling radio show last Friday.

Data from 2010 shows that approximately 70 percent of African-Americans residing in New York City are obese or overweight, compared to 51.4 percent of non-Latino whitesAdditionally, the problem of obesity is proven to be much worse in low-income neighborhoods.

“In all fairness it’s the local chapter, it’s not the national,” Bloomberg continued about the NAACP leadership, “but for them to do this is just such an outright disgrace. How [can they] look themselves in the mirror knowing they are hurting deliberately the life expectancy and the quality of life for the people they are supposed to serve?”

For some, this indictment renders the state NAACP’s fight to limit sodas sizes sold in bodegas, cornerstones of food selection in poor communities, highly questionable.

“We are not encouraging anyone to drink sugary drinks,” Dukes said in response. “But you can’t tell me that you’re only telling mom and pop stores, and you’re only telling bodegas, you’re not telling 7-11, you’re not telling McDonald’s, you’re not telling the chains what they can sell.”