Beverage industry, lawyers duel over sugary drink limit in New York City

Opponents are raising questions of racial fairness alongside other complaints as the novel restriction faces a court test.
By JENNIFER PELTZ Published: January 24, 2013
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The city Board of Health approved the measure in September. Officials cited the city's rising obesity rate — about 24 percent of adults, up from 18 percent in 2002 — and pointed to studies linking sugary drinks to weight gain. Care for obesity-related illnesses costs more than $4.7 billion a year citywide, with government programs paying about 60 percent of that, according to city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.

“It would be irresponsible for (the health board) not to act in the face of an epidemic of this proportion,” the city says in court papers.

Opponents portray the regulation as government nagging that turns sugary drinks into a scapegoat.

The American Beverage Association and other groups, including movie theater owners and Korean grocers, sued. They argue that the first-of-its-kind restriction should have gone before the elected City Council instead of being approved by the health board.

Five City Council members echo that view in a court filing, saying the Council is “the proper forum for balancing the city's myriad interests in matters of public health.” The Bloomberg administration counters that the health board, made up of doctors and other health professionals, has the “specialized expertise” needed to make the call on limiting cola sizes.

The lawsuit also argues the rule is too narrow to be fair. Alcohol, unsweetened juice and milk-based drinks are excluded, as are supermarkets and many convenience stores — including 7-Eleven, home of the Big Gulp — that aren't subject to city health regulations.

The NAACP and the Hispanic Federation, a network of 100 northeastern groups, say minority-owned delis and corner stores will end up at a disadvantage.



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