ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Guzzlers prevailed Thursday as New York’s highest court refused to reinstate New York City’s ban on the sale of large sodas and other drinks, ruling that the city’s health department overstepped its bounds when it approved the 16-ounce cap on sugary beverages.
The court largely ignored the merits of the ban in the 20-page ruling but determined the city’s Board of Health engaged in policy-making and not simply health regulations when it imposed the restrictions on restaurants, delis, movie theaters, stadiums and street cart vendors.
“The Board of Health engaged in law-making beyond its regulatory authority,” the opinion reads. “It is clear that the Board of Health wrote the Portion Cap Rule without benefit of legislative guidance.”
The city had hoped Thursday’s ruling would overturn a lower court’s decision that blocked the restrictions after restaurants, theater owners, beverage companies and small stores sued.
The ban was one of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s major health initiatives. Although he and current Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t find much common ground, they did agree on the soda ban and de Blasio continued the city’s appeal when he took office, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
“We are extremely disappointed by today’s court decision that prevents the city from implementing a sugary drink portion cap policy. The negative effects of sugary drink over-consumption on New Yorkers’ health, particularly among low-income communities, are irrefutable,” de Blasio said in a statement. “While we are still examining the court’s decision, it is our responsibility to address the causes of this epidemic and the city is actively reviewing all of its options to protect the health and well-being of our communities.”
“Today’s ruling does not change the fact that sugary drink consumption is a key driver of the obesity epidemic and we will continue to look for ways to stem the twin epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes by seeking to limit the pernicious effects of aggressive and predatory marketing of sugary drinks and unhealthy foods,” Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said in a statement.
Former health commissioner Dr. Tom Farly told WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb he believes the Board of Health had the authority to make this kind of regulation for 200 years.
“I think it’s a terrible decision. The Board of Health was doing exactly what it should be doing, protecting the health of New Yorkers,” he said. “They’ve done it in the past in prohibiting trans fat in restaurants and banning lead in paint, so this decision will hurt the health of New Yorkers.”
The ban did not include grocery or convenience stores that don’t serve prepared food. It also didn’t apply to diet soda, other calorie-free drinks or anything that has at least 50 percent milk or milk substitute.
In oral arguments earlier this month, attorneys for the city argued that sugary drinks are the largest source of added sugar in the American diet. They argued the restrictions were based on science and weren’t a true ban, only a limit on cup size.
Several judges on the Court of Appeals questioned where the board would draw the line.
Judge Eugene Piggott Jr. asked whether triple-decker burgers would be next. Judge Victoria Graffeo questioned the limit in light of exclusions like mixed coffee drinks loaded with more than 800 calories.
The American Beverage Association, which has helped lead the fight against the regulation, issued a statement Thursday morning praising the ruling.
“We are pleased that the lower courts’ decisions were upheld. It would have created an uneven playing field for thousands of small businesses in the city and limited New Yorkers’ freedom of choice,” the statement said. “With this ruling behind us, we look forward to collaborating with city leaders on solutions that will have a meaningful and lasting impact on New Yorkers and families across the country.”
According to the American Beverage Association, New York City is the only jurisdiction attempting such a restriction, though several others around the country have tried and failed to impose special taxes on sugary drinks.
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