A judge threw out New York City's ban on supersized sugary drinks today, prompting an angry Mayor Michael Bloomberg to say the judge was "totally in error" and that "we're talking about lives versus profits."
Judge Milton Tingling called the soda ban "arbitrary and capricious" in a 36 page order. Passed in September and scheduled to take effect Tuesday, the law "would not only violate the separation of powers doctrine, it would eviscerate it. Such an evisceration has the potential to be more troubling than sugar sweetened beverages," he said.
Bloomberg said the city would appeal the ruling.
"We're confident today's decision will ultimately be reversed," the mayor said.
In a news conference following the court ruling, Bloomberg said, "We're talking about lives versus profits."
"If we are serious about fighting obesity, we have to be honest about what causes it."
"While other people wring their hands … in New York City we're doing something about it… It would be irresponsible not to try to do everything we can to save lives," he said.
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said in a statement, "Without a portion cap on sugary drinks, it would be harder to tackle an obesity epidemic that kills more New Yorkers than anything other than smoking and causes misery for many thousands more who suffer from heart disease, diabetes and other debilitating illnesses. Sugary drinks are a leading cause of this epidemic. Today's decision threatens the health of New Yorkers, but we are confident that we will win on appeal."
The American Beverage Association, which is a member of the coalition that challenged the law, said the judge's ruling "provides a sigh of relief to New Yorkers and thousands of small businesses in New York City that would have been harmed by this arbitrary and unpopular ban."
The ban would outlaw soda, fruit smoothie, energy drinks and other sweet beverages served in containers 16 ounces or larger. Many businesses have been scrambling to stock smaller cups and explain changes to clientele. Others haven't implemented any menu or inventory changes, citing the city's three-month grace period and the pending lawsuit.
The ban would not apply to alcoholic beverages, among other exemptions, but it does include energy drinks and fruit smoothies in addition to soda.
The judge made the call during his review of a pending lawsuit against the ban filed by a group called Statewide Coalition, which represents the beverage industry, restaurants and other businesses. In its complaint the group argues that the ban includes too many loopholes - refills are still allowed, for example - and questions the science behind it.
"The petitioners do not dispute the seriousness of obesity and the myriad of effects on society. On the other hand, the petitioners argue the link between sugary drinks and obesity are not as clear as the respondents assert," the group states, according to the lawsuit.
New Yorkers' obesity rate has ballooned to 24 percent over the past decade, up from 18 percent. City officials cite large soda servings as a major culprit. A 32-ounce soda contains more calories than a cheeseburger, yet it doesn't make people feel full.
New Yorkers are divided on the new ban. A Quinnipiac University poll last week found 51 percent opposed and 46 percent in favor.
Nutritionists applaud the law, but not all regular folks have something sweet to say about it.
"It's creating a stop sign for folks," said Dr. Sharon Akabas, a director at Columbia University's Institute of Human Nutrition. "It's helping people help themselves."
Curbing New Yorkers' access to jumbo sodas and other sugar-laced drinks is a small but helpful step in combating obesity, said Akabas, who called soda "liquid candy." A 16-ounce serving contains about 200 calories, or about a tenth of an adult's daily recommended caloric intake, she said.
The ban would have the biggest impact on children and teenagers, said Dr. Holly Lofton, director of a medical weight management program at New York University's Langone Medical Center. Kids often use lunch money to buy massive cups and bottles of soda, not realizing or perhaps caring about the fact that large servings aren't suited to children's bodies, she said.
"Kids are gaining more weight from sugary beverages than food," she said. "It's scary, very scary."
For others, the proposed restriction amounts to a nanny state.
"I think it's stupid," said Mary Elizabeth Quinn, 58, of Rumson, N.J., at a Starbucks near the Lincoln Center on New York City's Upper West Side today. She said she often orders towering iced mochas. "People should be able to drink whatever the hell they want."