New York last week became the first city in the nation to ban the sale at certain establishments of soda and other calorie-rich drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces.
The ban, which starts March 2013, covers restaurants, mobile food vendors (pushcarts and food trucks), concessions at stadiums and movie theaters, and delis/small grocers where more than 50 percent of sales are eat-in or eat-out. It exempts supermarkets, bodegas, c-stores and pharmacies because they are regulated by the state, not the city.
The ban extends to any non-alcoholic beverage with more than 25 calories per 8 ounces, including some sodas, coffees, teas, smoothies and lemonades. Exemptions were made for beverages made mostly of milk or unsweetened fruit juice. With 16.9 ounces a standard bottle size, many drink makers will have to slightly shrink their containers.
Having already spent more than $1 million on a public-relations campaign against the controversial plan, members of New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, a group financed by the soft drink industry, quickly announced they are exploring ways to challenge the Board of Health's ruling, including legal action.
Critics have pointed to a lack of scientific evidence that the ban will reduce obesity rates. Restaurants have wined that grocers and c-stores are being excluded. Infringements on personal liberties have been particularly played up, with ad copy from the beverage group reading, "If this now, what's next?" With the onslaught of ads, a New York Times poll last month found 60 percent of New Yorkers disapproved of the ban.
But Mayor Michael Bloomberg has noted that many law changes that seemed inconceivable are now widely accepted, including bans on lead-based paint and smoking in offices and restaurants. Reasons cited were rising obesity rates in low income neighborhoods and among children, as well as the city's heavy medical bill dealing with diabetes and heart disease.
Other cities may follow suit. With signs of progress in his other moves to get New Yorkers healthier, other cities have matched the NYC's bans on trans fats and smoking in bars. Last Wednesday, McDonald's began posting calorie counts on its menus nationwide following New York City's becoming the first city to do so in 2008.
"We were the first city to ban trans fats; we were one of the early cities to prohibit lead in paint," the city's health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, told the New York Times. "You can understand why the industry feels the stakes are high here in New York City."
What's the likelihood that similar soda bans will become widespread across U.S. cities over the next three to five years?