NEW YORK -- New Yorkers for Beverage Choices is exploring all avenues--including in court--to challenge the New York City Board of Health's ruling that approved Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ban on sugar-sweetened beverages larger than 16 ounces, the group said.
"Despite strong opposition from New Yorkers and business owners throughout the city, the Board of Health today rubberstamped Mayor Bloomberg's ban--as expected," it said.
The ban, which goes into effect next March, will apply in fast-food restaurants, theaters, workplace cafeterias and most other places selling prepared food, but not supermarkets or convenience stores.
"The fix was in from the beginning, and the mayor's handpicked board followed their orders by passing this discriminatory ban; but it has not passed with the support of New Yorkers," said Liz Berman, president of Continental Food & Beverage Inc., and chair of New Yorkers for Beverage Choices. "It's sad that the board wants to limit our choices. We are smart enough to make our own decisions about what to eat and drink."
A majority of New Yorkers do not support government limits on the size of beverages such as soda, juice drinks, teas, sports drinks and flavored waters. More than 253,500 have joined the New Yorkers for Beverage Choices coalition.
And, according to a recent poll conducted by The New York Times, 60% of New Yorkers believe that the ban is a "bad idea," with a majority of those surveyed responding that the ban infringes on people's freedom of choice. By imposing this ban, the board has shown no regard for public opinion or the consequences to businesses in the city, the group said.
The ban has also prompted concern among small-business owners who believe they will be put at a competitive disadvantage by the arbitrary nature of the ruling. More than 2,100 have joined the coalition. Business owners and legislators have called for the ban to be put through a legitimate legislative process, like hearings before the City Council.
"The ban will hurt our business. We're already suffering in this economy. Why should I have to stop selling drinks my customers want while the store next door is allowed to?" said Rocco Coppola, owner of Sabrina's Broadway Pizzeria.
"Proposals like the soda ban discourage new business and hurt our reputation as the dining capital of the world," said Andrew Moesel, spokesperson for the New York State Restaurant Association. "Reducing obesity is an important goal, but we want to partner with government to come up with effective ways to confront the problem. What we don't need is more burdensome regulation making it harder for businesses to function and skewing the competitive landscape."
Eliot Hoff, spokesperson for New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, said, "This is not the end. We are exploring legal options, and all other avenues available to us. We will continue to voice our opposition to this ban and fight for the right of New Yorkers to make their own choices. And we will stand with the business owners who will be hurt by these arbitrary limitations."
Separately, the National Restaurant Association said the beverage ban unfairly targets restaurants and is a misguided tactic to impact the obesity problem.
"There is no scientific support that this beverage ban's size and caloric limit will impact obesity rates," said Joy Dubost, director of nutrition and healthy living for the association. "It is also bewildering that the ban restricts restaurants from serving sweetened beverages in sizes larger than 16 ounces, but individuals can purchase any-sized beverage from a convenience or grocery store. This ban will punitively impact thousands of New York's restaurant owners--the majority of which are small businesses."
"Apparently, even after the flood of comments and concerns raised by New Yorkers about this ban, the Board of Health chose to ignore all feedback and move forward without any significant changes to this flawed proposal."
"The majority of consumers purchase their sugar-sweetened beverages from convenience and grocery stores according to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which are excluded from the Mayor's proposal. Instead of demonizing sugar-sweetened beverages in restaurants, there should be a focus on policies and education that will truly influence behavioral change," said Dubost.
The ban will also cause operational challenges for restaurant operators. Under the ban, a restaurant may not offer self-service cups above 16 ounces even if the customer intends to fill it with a sugar-free drink. The only way an operator would be able to provide such a drink to customers is through the drive-thru window where self-serve is not available.
"This proposal creates an uneven playing field from a business perspective, and produces a false sense of accomplishment in the fight against obesity," said Scott DeFife, executive vice president, policy and government affairs for the National Restaurant Association. "The restaurant industry is committed to a proactive role in addressing obesity. We are disappointed in the board's vote … and will continue to push for solutions that will truly impact consumer health in a positive way."