NYC mayor proposes ban on large-size sugary drinks, stirs up controversy


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New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks he's got the skinny on combating obesity: Ban the Big Gulp.

The corner shops and packed restaurants that line Big Apple streets could no longer sell huge, sugary beverages as part of a proposal announced Thursday that, by March, could prohibit the sale of several types of hyped-up drinks over 16 ounces -- the size of a small McDonald's fountain drink.

The ban, however, raises questions about the legality of banning a substance that, itself, isn't illegal.

The announcement spilled across nation Thursday, gaining support from some concerned about the country's health and drawing dissent from others.

Ricky Wallace, of McKeesport, sipped on a 24-ounce bottle of Pepsi during lunch Downtown on Thursday. He said he purchased the bigger drink because of its affordability compared to buying two cans of his favorite soda.

But if New York's proposal came to Pittsburgh?

"That's just not right," Mr. Wallace, 47, said with a chuckle. "I think it should be 'to each his own.' How about that for once?"

A far-reaching sugary drink ban similar to the one proposed in New York would have a negative impact on sales and customer service, said Daniel Barni, 26, of Brookline, who is the assistant manager at the 7-Eleven on the 400 block of Wood Street.

"It would dampen sales tremendously," Mr. Barni said, adding that daily the convenience store sells more than 60 two-liter bottles of sweetened iced tea alone. He said 7-Eleven offers four sizes of fountain beverages, its 24-ouncer being the most popular. And those large drinks have one of the store's highest profit margins.

The proposed ban in New York City would apply only to establishments that also serve forms of "prepared food" and only to drinks with more than 25 calories per eight ounces, translating to a ban on any 16-ounce drink with more than 50 calories. The next size is typically a 24-ounce drink -- and one with 75 calories or more would be part of the ban.

The average soda falls into this margin: a 24-ounce bottle of Coke has 300 calories.

The proposal would not regulate the size of diet or calorie-free drinks, and drinks containing more than half milk or milk substitute would be exempt as well.

Yes, that means large lattes would not be prohibited.

If establishments are not in compliance with the stipulations, they could face a $200 fine if they don't downsize within three months. The proposal needs the approval of New York City's Board of Health, a likely step because its members are appointed by Mr. Bloomberg.

Bruce Ledewitz, professor of law at Duquesne University, said the proposal is a perfect example of measures that a government can take. While it may be a burdensome measure, it's not a violation of rights.

"This isn't a matter of the Constitution, it's a matter of the ballot box," Mr. Ledewitz said.

While people who pick up a large Coke every morning may not favor the ban, some health professionals are offering their support.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., publicly praised the measure, saying in a statement that the group hopes other areas of the nation will adopt similar regulations to curb the consumption of sugary beverages.

But for now, the Steel City can still get its fix. Drink up.

nation

The Associated Press contributed. Anna Orso: aorso@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1969. First Published June 1, 2012 4:00 AM


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