People within the five boroughs have six more months to buy soda and other beverages with high sugar content at any size they want, following the Board of Health's approval Thursday of a ban on unhealthy drinks over 16 ounces, which will take effect March 12.
The regulation will apply to any food service establishment that is regulated by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, including restaurants, mobile food carts, delis and concessions at movie theaters, stadiums and arenas. It will not, however, apply to all businesses that sell large drinks. One notable exception is 7-Eleven, which is regulated by the state instead of the city because food is not prepared on-site, so Big Gulps will still be legal.
The goal of the ban is to reduce obesity, which many researchers say is caused in large part by people drinking too much soda. Fifty-five percent of adults in Queens are too fat, according to the administration, and the situation is even worse elsewhere, like in the Bronx, where 70 percent are overweight or obese. Being too heavy leads to a number of health problems, especially diabetes.
Some citizens, such as City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), say the new restriction has too many loopholes and is an infringement on people's freedom, but the board disagreed by a vote of 8-0, with one abstention.
“Now that the Board of Health has rubber stamped Mayor Bloomberg’s arbitrary and capricious soda ban New Yorkers are expected to dutifully ignore the glaring loopholes and be content with their soda ration," Halloran said in a prepared statement issued after the vote. "We still have choices. We can take our snack business away from the corner mom and pop deli to supermarkets and franchise convenience stores."
He continued by saying that the mayor and Board of Health have determined that "you are not fit to take care of yourself. Government has to take care of you. This kind of arrogance is bad for the health of our democracy.”
The administration, however, had a simple answer for dissenters like Halloran.
“Obesity is an illness that is slowly, painfully destroying health and taking lives,” said Linda Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services. “Over time, our environment has been increasingly working against us — people move less and eat more, portion sizes have grown, and sugary beverages — full of empty calories — have grown exponentially and nearly 6,000 New Yorkers are now dying each year of obesity-related illness.
"The question rightly became not: how dare the government intervene, but how dare the government fail to intervene?”
Bloomberg said the ban is the biggest step any city has taken to curb obesity, and pushed the issue onto the national stage.
In announcing passage of the ban, the administration also lauded the Barclays Center, the new entertainment arena in Brooklyn that houses the Nets and hosts other events, for voluntarily adopting a ban on large sugary drinks immediately, ahead of the regulation taking effect.
Those businesses that are subject to the ban will be monitored through the city's regular inspection process, the administration said.