In the Spotlight - New York's Proposed Soda Ban

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It has been the drinks industry showdown of the year so far - Big Soda versus the Big Apple.


In the last month, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has spent much of his incumbency blaming the soft-drinks giants for growing obesity levels, laid out plans for a ban on large containers of high-sugar beverages.

It was time for action, he said on 1 June, National Donut Day.

“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the US, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’ ” Bloomberg told the told the New York Times. “New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something. I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”

It was Bloomberg's most strident move in his war against sugary drinks, a war that is escalating almost as quickly as New York waistlines. He has launched poster campaigns such as the one in January that featured graphic images of leg amputations caused by Type-2 diabetes. But still three-fifths of city residents are overweight or obese.

Perhaps he could tackle soft drinks in the same way he took on the tobacco companies. New York's smoking ban, at first derided, has since been copied around the world.

But, the soft drinks industry won't lay down and is fighting back.

The Coca-Cola Co said New Yorkers were too smart for the Bloomberg ban and called for residents to stand up for their soda rights.

“New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this,” the company said in a statement. “They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase. We hope New Yorkers loudly voice their disapproval about this arbitrary mandate.”

Fast-food restaurant McDonald's also criticised the plan. Under the proposed rules, no drink larger than 16oz could be sold in restaurants, a move that would turn McDonald's smallest drinks cups into its largest.

After the corporate dust up, the fight moved on to the street, where public opinion narrowly backed the soda companies and the right to unlimited cup sizes. A poll released shortly after the announcement showed 51% of New Yorkers opposed the plan compared to 46% who backed it.

“If I eat cheeseburgers and fries, I’m going to get dehydrated and that little cup is not enough,” Jessica Torres, 22, told the New York Times about the new size limit.

Small businesses also criticised the ban, which could be in place by March next year, claiming Bloomberg was once again railroading the little guy.

"Small-business owners are under constant attack by Mayor Bloomberg and this soda ban is just another example of that," Darrell Nelson, who runs four Mexican restaurants in New York City, told the Huffington Post.

Also in the Huff Post, Deli-owner Rezwan Kabir wondered: "Why aren't they going after Burger King and the triple decker?”

Perhaps they will be soon? “What’s next?” asked the Centre for Consumer Freedom alongside a picture of Bloomberg dressed as a nanny: “Limits on the width of a pizza slice, size of a hamburger or amount of cream cheese on your bagel?”

In response, city authorities said the ban did not aim to restrict people's right to drink a 40oz Super Big Gulp soda from 7-11, a size that is bigger than most people's stomach capacities. 

"This way, we're just telling you ‘That's a lot of soda,'" said Bloomberg.

Discussion has recently turned to whether the proposed ban is legal, and whether that matters.

“Regardless of whether the beverage or restaurant industries raise a legal or constitutional challenge against the latest proposal, they are likely to spend a lot of money fighting it,” one consultant told Reuters.

Another, when asked if the ban could be implemented in other cities, put it more bluntly.

"These companies may have to start playing whack-a-mole if this gains momentum."

But Bloomberg is up for a fight. He is in his final term as mayor. He doesn't seem to seek public office higher up so doesn't have to worry about upsetting special-interest groups. In the New Yorker,  Alex Koppelman outlined Bloomberg's position.

“The federal government would never be able to do anything like this right now, not in this political climate, and not with this Congress. The state legislature tried and failed. But Bloomberg can.”

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