Andy Morton

In the Spotlight - New York Soda Ban Overturned

By | 14 March 2013

New York has been a battleground for Big Soda

New York has been a battleground for Big Soda

It came very close, but at the last minute New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for once in his tenure, didn't get the health reform he wanted.

The architect of the city's smoking and trans-fat bans, Mayor Bloomberg was in combative mood after a judge slapped down a similar crusade against sugary drinks in containers over 16 ounces (47cl).

“It's farce,” was the Mayor's withering verdict. “How can somebody try to pass a law that deliberately says we can't improve the lives of our citizens?”

It is not the last we will hear from the mayor on this matter: Earlier today (14 March), the city won the right to appeal the decision to overturn the ban - but critics of the measure, first proposed in May, were cock-a-hoop over Judge Milton Tingling's last-minute intervention. 

“It (the proposed legislation) was the very definition of liberalism run amok, a good idea (people should limit their intake of sugary soft drinks) driven headlong into the weeds of over-kill, over-regulation and basic preposterousness,” said Miami Times columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.

The American Beverage Association, which had lobbied hard against the legislation, was less bombastic but equally pleased: “The court ruling provides 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 trade body said after the ruling.

“Arbitrary” was the word Tingling used when explaining his decision, and there were many who agreed. Why were convenience stores exempt from the ban and why were fruit juices and dairy drinks, which can have as much sugar in them as CSDs, also not included?

“This was a bad idea even without the bad implementation, and the 'whys' should serve as a lesson to future would-be Bloombergs,” said Forbes writer Mark Rogowsky, who was one of the many who discerned a political motive behind the health advocacy.

“People aren’t huge fans of being told what to do; but they absolutely hate being forced to do something,” Rogowsky said.

Miami Times' Pitts Jr even branded Bloomberg a dangerous ideologue.

“The distinguishing characteristic of extreme liberalism or extreme conservatism is the extremism itself, the fact that some people just don’t know when to quit,” he said.

However, for those who backed the legislation, it was in the campaign to block the ban where the real politics lay - those of the corporate lobbies.

“The fingerprints of the food and restaurant industries, with their clear economic conflicts of interest, are all over the public and judicial campaign to block the soda ban,” said Lawrence O. Gostin on the CNN website. “Rather than recognize the public health effects of large sugary drinks, they chose to fight, reminiscent of Big Tobacco. What is worse, the public (and now a judge) fell for the industry's manipulations.”

But, Gostin can understand the industry’s reaction to Bloomberg's proposal, and why it spent millions on banner campaigns and subway ads. As happened with the smoking ban, the New York mayor's big ideas have a habit of spreading.

“Why is the industry fighting this so fiercely? Because, when it is shown to be successful in New York, it will be emulated in major cities in America and worldwide,” Gostin said.

It was left to Bloomberg's own news agency to strike the most positive note for the city's health campaigners.

Yesterday it published an article that said: “New York should see the judge’s ruling as an opportunity to revise the law … and develop regulations in line with the scientific consensus that even 16 ounces is way too much.”

There are still many out there gunning for big sodas, and for Big Soda.

Expert analysis

USA Soft Drinks Review 2012

A competitively priced comprehensive overview of the key categories in the soft drinks market.

Sectors: Corporate social responsibility (CSR), Legislation, Soft drinks

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