Very big sugary drinks are safe in the Big Apple – at least for now.
On Monday, a New York judge blocked the city from implementing a ban on such beverages just a day before it was slated to take effect.
The decision marks a major defeat for a high-profile initiative promoted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a way to fight obesity.
In his ruling, the judge called the regulation “fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences” and riddled with loopholes that “effectively defeat the stated purpose.”
The ban would have prohibited the sale of sugar-laden drinks in containers bigger than 16 ounces at restaurants, stadiums, movie theatres and delis. However, supermarkets and convenience stores like 7-Eleven – home of the famous “Big Gulp” – were exempt.
Last year, powerful trade associations representing beverage manufacturers and restaurant owners sued the city, claiming it had overstepped its bounds in drafting the rule.
At a press conference, Mr. Bloomberg vowed to appeal the judge’s ruling and said he was confident the city would prevail.
“Being the first to do something is never easy,” he said. “Every time you adopt a ground-breaking policy, special interests will sue – that’s America.”
Public-health advocates had praised the regulation as a bold step toward limiting the consumption of sugary drinks while libertarians derided it as another move by the Bloomberg administration to infantilize New Yorkers.
Over the last decade, Mr. Bloomberg banned trans fat in the city’s eateries, forced fast-food establishments to post calorie counts and outlawed smoking in bars, restaurants and parks.
In recent weeks, local businesses have struggled to prepare for the sugary-drink rule, which gave them a three-month period to adapt to the new reality before the city would begin levying fines of $200 (U.S.) for infractions.
Some restaurants ordered smaller sizes of cups and glasses. Others, like Dunkin Donuts, sought to educate their customers on the consequences of the rule by distributing flyers. Still others, like Starbucks, decided to wait and see.
Mr. Bloomberg strongly defended the policy as a means to save lives. “While other people will wring their hands over the problem of sugary drinks, in New York City, we are doing something about it,” he said Monday. “We believe it is reasonable and responsible to draw a line.”
At Lucky Star Café, a small deli not far from Times Square, staff members argued over what exactly the rule would ban. Two large refrigerators contained what would have been contraband under the rule: 20-ounce containers of Coke, Sprite and Gatorade.
George Maxemoss, the owner, wasn’t unduly worried about the impact of the law to begin with. He shrugged when he learned a judge had struck it down. You can’t fight human nature, he suggested. “If I want to drink more, I’m going to buy more.”