Court strikes down New York’s ban on big sodas

Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to limit the size of sodas in New York City, one of the most aggressive and controversial public health initiatives in recent memory, effectively died on Thursday. It was not yet 2 years old.

A New York appeals court ruled that the city’s health board, which had approved the former mayor’s effort to limit the size of sodas and other sugary drinks, “exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority” and infringed powers that otherwise belonged to the New York City Council.


Andrea Hebert of New York protests New York City’s proposed soda ban in 2012. A state court killed the idea, championed by former  Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Thursday. (REUTERS/Andrew Burton)

Thursday’s 4-2 decision, which came on the heels of similar rulings by lower courts, marks a substantial defeat for the former New York mayor and other public health advocates, who argued that high-calorie beverages play an important role in the nation’s worsening obesity problem.

Bloomberg initially proposed the ban in 2012, suggesting that sugar-laden drinks such as sodas, slurpees and Frappuccinos were helping to fuel consumption habits that lead to diabetes and other costly health problems. The proposal, which would have applied to restaurants, movie theaters, sports stadiums and other venues, would have prohibited sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces.

Despite approval from the city’s health board, the effort — perhaps predictably — led to a massive backlash from critics who saw it as an infringement on personal rights and an egregious example of “nanny state” regulation.

The American Beverage Association, the National Restaurant Association and other trade groups quickly sued, leaving the soda ban issue in the hands of the court system.

Brady Dennis is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on food and drug issues.
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