Is Bloomberg's Soda Ban Discriminatory?

Advocates say Bloomberg's soda ban discrimates against Latinos and blacks

ByCristina Costantini
January 23, 2013, 11:40 AM

Jan. 23, 2013 — -- Two minority advocacy groups are teaming up in opposition of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's impending ban on sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces.

The Hispanic Federation and the NAACP of New York argue that it will disproportionately affect minority-owned businesses and unfairly affect "freedom of choice in low-income communities" when implemented in March, according to the AP. However, many supporters of the ban, including Bloomberg himself, say it will actually do good for the Latino and black community where the obesity epidemic is particularly severe.

In a hearing on Wednesday, critics will likely argue that the ban will be inconsistently implemented, because it cracks down on independently-owned grocers, while leaving the 7-Eleven convenience store giant (and mother of the Big Gulp) to continue selling large sodas. The chain is governed by the state health department, and not the city department, and therefore will not be affected by the ban, company representatives told ABC/Univision. As part of 7-Eleven's plans to expand operations in New York City, the company kicked off a bodega-buy-out program last year in which the company encourages local grocers to become part of the their franchise.

A number of businesses have come out against the ban. A chain of Korean grocery chains, the American Beverage Association and hundreds of other companies who will be impacted, such as Honest Tea, have voiced their opposition in recent months.

"This sweeping regulation will no doubt burden and disproportionately impact minority-owned businesses at a time when these businesses can least afford it," the minority advocacy groups argued in court papers. Both groups say the city should focus divert their focus on sugary drinks to improving physical education programs in New York schools.

Indeed, the ban will likely affect minorities in the city more than white New Yorkers, as 7 in 10 black New Yorkers, 6 in 10 Hispanics, and 4 in 10 whites say they usually drink non-diet sodas.

That may be exactly the point. Bloomberg's office pointed to obesity statistics in these communities as evidence of the necessity of their ban.

"The obesity epidemic strikes hardest in communities already suffering from health and economic disparities, particularly black, Latino and low-income neighborhoods; black New Yorkers are almost three times more likely, and Hispanics twice as likely, as whites to die from diabetes," Bloomberg's office said in a press release celebrating the law's passage. "The Board of Health's passing this proposal means that New Yorkers will soon consume fewer junk calories and eventually begin turning the tide of the obesity epidemic that is destroying the health of far too many of our citizens."

But not everyone is drinking the sugar-free Kool-Aid. Sixty percent of New Yorkers are opposed to the ban, and those living in the Bronx and Queens residents are more likely than Manhattanites to say the plan is a bad idea, according to a poll conducted last year by The New York Times.

When ABC/Univision visited the historically Latino neighborhood of East Harlem last year, bodega and deli owners unanimously expressed their opposition to the ban, saying it would hurt business in the area.

Francisco Garcia, the owner of Mexico Lindo Grocery in Harlem, was among the concerned. He argued that nutrition should be an informed, personal choice.

"It shouldn't be like that. Everybody has the right to know what to eat, what to drink," he said. "We should know what's good for our own health."

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