Judge Strikes Down NYC Ban on Large Sugary Drinks

Law was set to take effect Tuesday

(KJM-427/Flickr)

(KJM-427/Flickr)

A judge struck down New York City’s ban on sugary beverages larger than 16 ounces on Monday, less than 24 hours before the law was scheduled to go into effect. In a decision [PDF] from the state’s Supreme Court in New York County, Judge Milton Tingling found that the Board of Health’s rule was “arbitrary and capricious.”

New York City’s Board of Health had approved the rule [PDF] last September, a significant public health effort from Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In his ruling Tingling also said the rule violated the separation of powers, that this type of action should be determined by the city council, not the New York City’s Board of Health. “The Rule would not only violate the separation of powers doctrine, it would eviscerate it,” Tingling wrote. “Such an evisceration has the potential to be more troubling than sugar sweetened beverages.”

A lawsuit challenging the rule was brought by a coalition of groups including a statewide coalition of Hispanic chambers of commerce, New York’s Korean-American Grocers Association, several unions and the American Beverage Association.

City officials immediately stated they would appeal the ruling. (Note that the Supreme Court which issued this decision is a trial-level court in New York.)

Harold Goldstein is executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. He said he wasn’t terribly surprised by today’s ruling and acknowledged the public education value of Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts.

“New York City’s proposal did as much as anything in the country to raise awareness that soda is the biggest source of sugar in the diet and the largest contributor to obesity and diabetes,” Goldstein said.

He believes that portion size restriction on sodas by local and state governments are coming. “The tide has turned across the country against sugary drinks. People now know about the harmful effects of sugary drinks,” he said “It’s because of initiatives like Mayor Bloomberg’s that are informing people about these products.”

In a 36-page decision Tingling detailed the history of New York’s City Charter going back to 1686, as well as the history of the powers of the Board of Health. Tingling acknowledged the authority of the board to “prevent and protect against communicable, infectious, and pestilent diseases.” But he questioned the board’s authority to “limit or ban a legal item under the guise of ‘controlling chronic disease.’”

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