A New York judge has overturned a ban on big soft drinks, just hours before it was to come into effect. Critics had argued that Mayor Bloomberg’s latest anti-obesity health drive was arbitrary and ineffective.
New York Judge Milton Tingling ruled that the city's Board of Health had gone beyond its authority by introducing measures to restrict servings to a maximum of 16 ounces (470 milliliters) in fast-food and other restaurants.
He said it was an "arbitrary" measure as it only applied to certain vendors and certain types of drinks.
The New York Board of Health had approved the ban last September. It was due to come into force on Tuesday in restaurants and places of public entertainment, such as stadiums and movie theaters. City inspectors were set to start enforcing it and eventually fining those who didn't comply up to $200 (153 euros) for a violation.
Industry lobby groups led by the American Beverage Association and the National Restaurant Association took the city to court over the measure arguing that it would hurt certain businesses.
They argued that the vendors affected would have to spend thousands of dollars to change their inventory, reprint menus, that movie theater owners would see a decline in soft drink sales which accounted for 20 percent of their profits, while supermarkets could continue to sell drinks in large containers.
"The loopholes effectively defeat the stated purpose of this rule," Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice MiltonTingling wrote.
The ban would not have extended to drinks sold in supermarkets, sugared drinks with more than 50 percent milk or alcoholic drinks which also have high calorie counts.
Obesity number one threat
According to New York health officials 5,000 people in the city die each year from obesity-linked problems, 24 percent of all adults in New York are classified as obese, up from 18 percent in 2002. One in eight adult New Yorkers has diabetes, which can be caused by high sugar consumption, and studies have shown that sodas, which often cost less than bottled water, contribute to the problem. Care for obesity-related illnesses costs government health programs about $2.8 billion a year in New York City.
"Sugary drink consumption is a key driver of the obesity epidemic in the US and in New York. And it is an epidemic," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had said when promoting the ban.
He argued that the disappearance of mega-sized cups would make people more aware of what they were consuming.
The ban followed the introduction of other measures by Bloomberg's administration aimed at changing people's eating habits, such as forcing chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus.
Bloomberg had made public health a key concern of his administration, banning smoking in restaurants, bars and most lately parks and on beaches.
But opinion polls indicated that a majority of New Yorkers opposed the ban with critics accusing Bloomberg of meddling too far into the personal health decisions and impinging on civil liberties.
He responded to the court ruling saying he planned "to appeal the sugary drinks decision as soon as possible, and we are confident the measure will ultimately be upheld."
rg/jm (AP, dpa, AFP)