New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's proposal to ban the sale of sweetened beverages 16 oz. or larger was approved today by the NYC Board of Health.
After the news broke, Bloomberg tweeted: "NYC's new sugary drink policy is the single biggest step any gov't has taken to curb obesity. It will help save lives."
He has continued to send tweets in defense of the proposal throughout the day, including:
"People given #beverages 50% larger consume 20%-33% more. Portion size drives consumption;" and "We're taking action because #obesity is a national epidemic that is creating a public health crisis – and we can't just let that happen."
According to the New York Times, unless the measure is blocked by a judge, it should take effect in six months.
Bloomberg proposed the ban as an amendment to the New York City Health Code. Specifically, it would prohibit the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages above 16 ounces in restaurants, delis, movie theaters, stadiums, food carts and other venues throughout New York City.
The ban extends to any beverage – exclusive of milkshakes and alcoholic drinks – with more than 25 calories per 8 ounces, including some sodas, coffees, teas, smoothies and lemonades.
National Restaurant Association responds
The National Restaurant Association responded to today's approval, saying the ban unfairly targets restaurants and is a misguided tactic to impact the obesity problem.
"There is no scientific support that this beverage ban's size and caloric limit will impact obesity rates," said Joy Dubost, Ph.D., R.D., director of Nutrition and Healthy Living for the NRA. "It is also bewildering that the ban restricts restaurants from serving sweetened beverages in sizes larger than 16 ounces, but individuals can purchase any-sized beverage from a convenience or grocery store. This ban will punitively impact thousands of New York's restaurant owners – the majority of which are small businesses."
The NRA is a member of the New Yorkers for Beverage Choices coalition, which currently has more than 250,000 supporters who oppose the beverage ban. A spokesperson for New Yorkers for Beverage Choices said the group is exploring legal options to fight the restrictions.
"Apparently, even after the flood of comments and concerns raised by New Yorkers about this ban, the Board of Health chose to ignore all feedback and move forward without any significant changes to this flawed proposal," Dubost said.
Among the flaws, she adds, is the exclusion of convenience and grocery stores, where a majority of consumers purchase their sugar-sweetened beverages from, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Bottom line worries
Also, worry abounds that the ban will have a detrimental effect on New York restaurants' bottom lines, since soft drinks carry high margins. For example, in June, an Edward Jones analyst estimated that McDonald's pulls in about 5 percent of its U.S. sales from soft drinks.
Fountain drinks make up about 24 percent of the 9.3 billion cases of soda sold a year, according to Beverage Digest. The market is worth $75.7 billion.
McDonald's sent out a tweet June 1, two days after Bloomberg first pitched the idea, which said: "@MikeBloomberg We trust our customers to make the choices that are best for them."
That same day, the New York State Restaurant Association also released an extensive response.
"We appreciate the Mayor's concern for public health, but the current proposal goes much too far," said Andrew Moesel, spokesman for the NYC Chapter of New York State Restaurant Association. "No one understands private enterprise and business better than the mayor. People want choices. Restaurants are serving the public what it wants and we all hope that will continue. If we want New York City to remain the restaurant capital of the world, we must stop placing these burdensome restrictions on what can and can't be served here."
The NRA also points out that the ban will cause operational challenges for restaurant operators. Under the ban, a restaurant may not offer self-service cups above 16 ounces even if the customer intends to fill it with a sugar-free drink. The only way an operator would be able to provide such a drink to customers is through the drive-thru window where self-serve is not available.
"This proposal creates an uneven playing field from a business perspective, and produces a false sense of accomplishment in the fight against obesity," said Scott DeFife, executive vice president, Policy and Government Affairs for the NRA. "The restaurant industry is committed to a proactive role in addressing obesity. We are disappointed in the board's vote today, and will continue to push for solutions that will truly impact consumer health in a positive way."
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Alicia Kelso has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.