NYC Ban On Big Sodas Gets Public Fired Up
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
New York City residents got their fair say Tuesday in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on the sale of large sodas in area restaurants, movie theaters and other public venues, many supporting the ban as a way to fight obesity, but others opposing the measure, calling it pointless and unfair.
Despite the public turnout at the Board of Health hearing in Queens, it seemed only a few actually represented the average soda-drinker. Also on tap were beverage companies and their advocacy groups, who strongly opposed the ban, fearing not only lost profits, but also claiming it will limit choice and give in to a “nanny state” control of personal nutrition.
“While we feel the mayor has good intentions, his proposal seems arbitrary,” said Eliot Hoff, a spokesperson for New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, a group that receives a portion of its funding from the American Beverage Association. “We believe that we can choose what we drink and how much we drink.”
The proposal, the first of its kind in the country, seeks to limit the sale of soda and other sugary beverages to 16 ounces across the city. Bloomberg and his appointees, expect the measure will pass when it is put to a vote on September 13. If so, it would only apply to establishments under the supervision of the Department of Health, which do not include convenience and grocery stores.
Melissa Mark-Viverito, a City Council member who represents low-income families in East Harlem and the Bronx, was among the opponents, saying the proposal would unfairly harm small and mid-sized restaurants that sell drinks in large containers.
“After speaking face to face with restaurant owners, I’m convinced that this ban will have an adverse economic impact on our community’s small businesses and could result in job losses,” Mark-Viverito said. “We need to get to the root of the problem, which goes much deeper than the size of a cup of soda,” she argued, urging city officials to renovate and expand parks and playgrounds to give resident more opportunities to get outside and be active.
Coca-Cola Co. also called out Bloomberg, saying the proposal was an insult to New Yorkers and the American Beverage Association, which represents a number of beverage makers, including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.
“We believe it is misguided, unscientific, arbitrary and, if adopted, unlawful,” said Jim McGreevy of the ABA at the hearing. Americans are drinking less full-calorie sweetened drinks, yet obesity is still on the rise, he noted.
In favor of the bill was Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. Sodas are the single biggest source of added sugar in American diets and have no nutritional value whatsoever, he said.
“If people are served larger portions, they generally consume more,” he said. “This to me is a bold and constructive policy completely supported by scientific evidence.”
That scientific evidence can be seen in the numbers: City statistics show that 58 percent of NY adults and nearly 40 percents of public school students are obese or overweight.
Also supporting the measure, groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said it’s about time the issue of oversized portions and sugary beverages was taken up.
“For more than 100 years, the soda industry has had free reign and for many years it was not a problem because people mostly drank in moderation,” said Michael Jacobson, CSPI’s co-founder and executive director. “Now container sizes have jumped and the marketing of these drinks — especially to adolescents — has exploded to more than $2 billion a year.”
At one time a standard soft drink came in a 6.5 ounce bottle. Today that average has increased to 20 ounces, more than three times the once norm. “If people shifted from one 20-ounce serving to a 16-ounce serving just once a week, this could potentially prevent an estimated 2.5 million pounds of weight per year,” Jacobson said during the hearing.
If the measure passes in September, as will most likely be the case, — the mayor will handpick the health experts himself for the vote — it will not go into effect until March 2013, giving establishments enough time to make the switch. For those who violate the size limits after that date, fines can be assessed for up to $200 per violation.
Daniel J. Halloran III, a councilman and a Republican Congressional candidate from Queens, who was in attendance at the hearing, a strong opponent of the measure, said: “What will they be telling me next? What time I should go to bed? How many potato chips I can eat? How big my steak should be?”
Ahead of the news conference, city officials held a news conference to describe obesity as an epidemic that is “ravaging” the city of New York. The city presented a chart that mapped rates of obesity and soda consumption across the five boroughs, with the poorer neighborhoods climbing off the chart.
More than a dozen people were still waiting their turn to speak when the meeting’s scheduled end time came and went.