On a late Monday morning, Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) stood in front of Cascarino’s Pizzeria decrying the looming ban on soda servings larger than 16 ounces at select merchants and restaurants around the city.
He called on the city’s Department of Health to educate small business owners on how to comply with the impending rules, instead of fining them. When asked about a lawsuit brought on by soft-drink companies to block the new rules, the lawmaker predicted the ban would be shot down for being “arbitrary and capricious.”
Within a few hours, a judge in Manhattan federal court proved Halloran right, even echoing the “arbitrary and capricious” reasoning. The much-ballyhooed soda ban had fizzed out in a federal court, to the joy of its opponents and chagrin of its biggest champion — Mayor Bloomberg.
The ruling reportedly caught the mayor by surprise. Earlier in the day, he touted a new report showing a correlation between soft drink consumption and obesity. Six hours later, he was explaining the reasoning behind an executive order derided as nanny-stateism of the highest order by some of his biggest critics.
“If we are serious about fighting obesity, we have to be honest about what causes it — and we have to have the courage to tackle it head-on. 70,000 people will die of obesity in America this year, 5,000 people in New York City will die of obesity,” Bloomberg said at his press conference on Tuesday. “Now, the best science tells us that sugary drinks are a leading cause of obesity. Some people say: Just talk about the problem, raise awareness, and hope that results in change. But it’s not enough to talk and it’s not enough to hope.”
The ban would have put a limit on sodas and other sugary drinks, but only in a certain form and for specific businesses. It led to a dizzying confluence of options that seemed illogical to most consumers. For example, you can still get a milkshake of any size anywhere, but your two-liter sodas would only be found in stores such as 7-Eleven.
It was that sort of arbitrary enforcement that left Cascarino’s owner Jimmy Coady crying foul. He was unsure what he’d tell customers when they ordered a two-liter coke with their large pie on Friday nights.
“To ban the two-liter bottle is ridiculous,” he said. “Who sits there with a two-liter bottle and drinks the entire thing by themselves.”
Bloomberg touted the ban as part of an ongoing effort to regulate New York City citizens into good health. He cited past bans on smoking indoors and parks, as well as a ban on trans fats, as the sort of good-willed regulation that he can ensure better health from the executive’s seat.
“We have a responsibility as human beings to do something, to save each other, to save the lives of ourselves, our families, our friends, and all of the rest of the people that live on God’s planet. And so while other people will wring their hands over the problem of sugary drinks, in New York City, we’re doing something about it,” he said,
Halloran and others derided the pro-health stance as a lark.
“If the mayor was serious about obesity, he would make sure that every school has a gym teacher,” he said.
Bloomberg promised to fight the judge’s ruling, a battle which will reportedly last way beyond his term, and have to be waged by his successor.
“There are many, many instances where a lower-court decision has gone against us and then been reversed. If lower-court rulings had always stood, Grand Central Terminal would have been knocked down forty years ago,” he said. “We’re confident that today’s decision will ultimately be reversed, too.”