Judge rules out NYC soda ban

A display of various-size cups and sugar cubes is shown at a news conference at New York’s City Hall last year. A judge struck down the city’s limit on the size of sugar-laden drinks Monday. (Associated Press)

Justice says loopholes defeat purpose

NEW YORK – A judge struck down New York City’s pioneering ban on big sugary drinks Monday just hours before it was supposed to take effect, handing a defeat to health-minded Mayor Michael Bloomberg and creating uncertainty for restaurants that had already ordered smaller cups and changed their menus.

State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling said the 16-ounce limit on sodas and other sweet drinks arbitrarily applies to only some sugary beverages and some places that sell them.

“The loopholes in this rule effectively defeat the stated purpose of this rule,” Tingling wrote in a victory for the beverage industry, restaurants and other business groups that called the rule unfair and wrong-headed.

In addition, the judge said the Bloomberg-appointed Board of Health intruded on the City Council’s authority when it imposed the rule.

The city vowed to appeal the decision, issued by New York state’s trial-level court.

“We believe the judge is totally in error in how he interpreted the law, and we are confident we will win on appeal,” Bloomberg said, adding that the city would emphasize to higher courts “that people are dying every day. This is not a joke.”

For now, though, the ruling means the ax won’t fall today on supersized sodas, sweetened teas and other high-sugar beverages in restaurants, movie theaters, corner delis and sports arenas.

“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 American Beverage Association and other opponents said.

While some eateries had held off making changes because of the court challenge, some restaurants had begun using smaller glasses for full-sugar soda. Dunkin’ Donuts shops have been telling customers they will have to sweeten and flavor their own coffee. Coca-Cola has printed posters explaining the rules.

Frames Bowling Lounge developed – and is keeping – a slate of fresh-squeezed juices as an alternative to pitchers of sodas for family parties, investing staff time, buying new glasses and changing menus.

“All that cost a lot of money – but you have to go with the flow,” executive general manager Ayman Kamel said. Customers have started calling about the new juices, and “we’re all very excited about it,” he added.

Bloomberg urged businesses to comply despite the court ruling, and not just because the city may yet prevail.

“If you know what you’re doing is harmful to people’s health, common sense says if you care, you might want to stop doing that,” he said.

Because of the limits of city authority and exemptions made for other reasons, the ban on supersized beverages doesn’t cover alcoholic drinks or many lattes and other milk-based concoctions, and it doesn’t apply at supermarkets or many convenience stores – including 7-Eleven, home of the Big Gulp.

The rule, if upheld, would create an “administrative leviathan,” warned Tingling, who was elected to the Supreme Court bench in 2001 as a Democrat.

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