Court strikes down New York City ban on super-sized, sugary drinks

The state’s highest court on Thursday struck down New York City’s law banning the sale of super-sized sugary drinks, ending the two-year battle over one of the most memorable -- and controversial -- initiatives of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In a 26-page ruling, the state’s Court of Appeals said the city’s Health Department “exceeded the scope” of its authority in 2012, when it banned food-service establishments from selling sugar-filled drinks in sizes larger than 16 ounces.

The law also affected movie theaters that sell drinks, stadium concession stands and delis. Supporters led by Bloomberg said the law would help combat rising obesity and associated health problems in the nation’s largest city.

Hours before it was due to take effect in March 2013, a state court invalidated it. The city appealed, leading to Thursday’s decision.

It was a victory for the food and restaurant industry, which said the law would have encroached on individual freedoms to guzzle high-calorie, super-sized sodas and have caused economic hardship on businesses that sell them.


Among other objections, they noted that the law would affect some businesses but not others, depending on whether they were regulated by the state or the city. A McDonald’s would not have been able to sell a 32-ounce soda, for example. But grocery stores and convenience markets, such as 7-11, which are regulated by the state, would not have been barred from selling giant sodas.

It never was made clear how the law would have been enforced. It would not have prohibited people who wanted giant sodas from buying multiple smaller ones. It also remained unclear how food outlets such as coffee houses, whose cream-laden drinks often have more calories than sodas, would have been affected.

Bloomberg had said it was part of his broader effort to improve New Yorkers’ health, and it came on the heels of several other initiatives in his administration that changed the city’s food laws, and that often influenced other cities.

In 2008, New York became the first major urban area to require large restaurant chains to include calorie counts on menus. In recent years, the city has also banned smoking in most public areas, including beaches, parks and pedestrian plazas; and the city passed the nation’s first law requiring restaurants to drastically cut the use of artificial trans fats in prepared food.

According to health officials, 58% of New Yorkers are overweight or obese, and nearly 40% of the city’s public school children are obese or overweight.

There was no indication that Mayor Bill De Blasio, who had indicated support for the law, would try to come up with a new version of it.

The city’s commissioner of health, Mary T. Bassett, said in a statement that the court’s ruling “does not change the fact that sugary drink consumption is a key driver of the obesity epidemic.”

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