Some Queens food business owners, residents and elected officials say the mayor should can his idea to restrict the sale of sugary beverages over 16 ounces.
Last week, Bloomberg announced he was asking the Board of Health to approve his plan that would affect all food establishments graded by the city, such as restaurants, delis and concessions at movie theaters and stadiums. Also included would be food carts.
Exempt are businesses regulated by the state, such as 7-Eleven stores, whose food preparation is done off-premises. Ironically, 7-Elevens carry the largest drinks: the Big Gulp at 44 ounces and the Double Gulp at 64 ounces. The chain is in the process of trying to expand in Manhattan by luring bodegas into becoming 7-Elevens.
The mayor’s plan is yet another attempt by Bloomberg to control New Yorkers’ intake of sugar. He was not successful last year pushing for a sales tax on sweetened beverages, or the year before trying to stop the purchase of soft drinks with food stamps.
But this time the mayor has the upper hand. He makes the appointments to the Board of Health and members are not expected to contest the plan.
However, Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) is appealing to Bloomberg to stop the initiative. “I ask that the mayor rescind this silly, nanny-state idea and let New Yorkers decide how to live their own lives,” Halloran said.
He and Councilman Oliver Koppell (D-Bronx) plan to circulate a petiton among members to urge the mayor to change his mind.
“New York City needs to trust its citizens to make their own decisions,” Halloran said. “Like everyone else, I am concerned about the health of New Yorkers, but it isn’t the government’s job to tell people how much food or drink they are allowed to consume.”
Steve Behar of Bayside agrees. “The mayor should be focusing on creating jobs and keeping the city safe,” Behar said. “Will he try to ban Big Macs next?”
Douglas Montgomery of Douglaston believes there are a lot more important things for the mayor to take care of “like projects important to communities and not closing down kids’ programs.”
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) agrees, saying in an open letter to the mayor that funding physical education and after-school programs would have a bigger impact on children’s health [see page 9 ]
But Henry Euler of Auburndale thinks the mayor is doing a good thing. “There is so much diabetes today,” Euler said. “Anything to cut down the rates will help.”
Under the mayor’s proposal, any drink that contains more than 25 calories per 8 fluid ounces and contains less than 51 percent milk or milk substitute as an ingredient would be affected. Exempt would be diet sodas, diet iced teas, milk shakes or sweetened lattes.
The amendment to the city Health Code will be submitted June 12, followed by a three-month comment period before a vote is taken. If approved, the Health Department will then give the establishments six months before citing violators and nine months before issuing $200 fines. The regulation could go into effect by next March.
The Mayor’s Office says sugary drinks are associated with long-term weight gain and an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
But Stefan Friedman, spokesman for the New York City Beverage Association called the mayor’s plan an “unhealthy obsession” with attacking soft drinks. “The city is not going to address the obesity issue by attacking soda because soda is not driving the obesity rates,” Friedman said.
Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Office sent out four pages of quotes from health experts praising Bloomberg’s efforts. For example, the Obesity Society said it supports the plan as it will help reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, “which research shows are a major contributor to increased calorie intake by both children and adults.”
Taking the opposite stand is the nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom, located in Washington, DC. It took out a full-page color ad in the Saturday New York Times blasting “Nanny” Bloomberg’s plan. The ad asks, “What’s next? Limits on the width of a pizza slice, size of a hamburger or amount of cream cheese on your bagel?”
J. Justin Wilson, CCF’s senior research analyst, said in a phone interview that Bloomberg’s proposal “is insulting, paternalistic and smacks of the police state.”
Wilson added that numerous studies have demonstrated that soda is not a unique contributor to obesity. A recent analysis by the National Cancer Institute found that soda intake accounts for less than 7 percent of the average person’s daily calories.
“New Yorkers elected Bloomberg as their mayor, not their mother,” he added, calling the proposal “outrageous.”
Wilson is optimistic the mayor will have a change of heart because of the backlash.
Also opposing the plan are two Cornell University professors of applied economics and management, Brian Wansink and David Just. In an article in US News & World Report, they said that 150 years of research in food economics tells us that people get what they want.
“Someone who buys a 32-ounce soft drink wants a 32-ounce soft drink and will find a way to work around the ban,” they wrote.
The professors added that some who buy super-sized drinks are construction workers, who buy a single drink and nurse it all day and families of three who decided to split a single drink to save month.
Winnie Yap agrees. She and her husband own the AA Super Star Deli on Woodhaven Boulevard in Rego Park. Yap thinks the mayor’s plan is crazy and won’t work.
“The larger sizes shouldn’t be banned,” Yap said. “I don’t drink soda, but a smaller size drink is not enough for the hard-working construction guys.”
Mets officials refused to comment on the ban, which would affect Citi Field. The stadium is on city park property.
Jeff Orlick, who leads food tours in Queens and is well acquainted with Hispanic food truck owners in the Jackson Heights-Corona area, said they probably are not aware of the proposed soda size ban.
He noted that the Ecuadorian vendors dispense very large beverages as do the Tia Julia and Tortas Neza trucks, which sell quart-size drinks.