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NYC Sugary Drink Ban: No More Big Gulps?

Monday, 11 Mar 2013 | 3:26 PM ET
A judge on Monday declared New York City's ban on the sale of large sugary drinks "arbitrary and capricious.''
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A judge on Monday declared New York City's ban on the sale of large sugary drinks "arbitrary and capricious.''

Update: A Judge in New York City late Monday stopped the ban from going into place on Tuesday, saying the regulation was "fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences." The Mayor's office issued a statement shortly after saying they planned to appeal the decision and "are confident the measure will ultimately be upheld."

If God hadn't meant for us to eat sugar, he wouldn't have invented dentists." Ralph Nader, consumer advocate.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg doesn't share Ralph Nader's higher power rationale for a sweet tooth, as residents of the city's five boroughs have learned. And the sour taste from that lesson begins this Tuesday.

That's when the ban on sales of big sugary laced drinks — a ban he championed for months and got approved by the city board of health — goes into effect. (Read More: Health-Care Reform Biggest Challenge: J&J CEO)

The regulation has drawn national attention and the wrath of many New Yorkers — polls show up to 60 percent disapprove of the ban — as well as from those who don't even live in the Big Apple, according to local web site comments.

Sal Ruibal from DC on NYTimes.com: "They can have my quadruple-sugared macchiato when they pry it from my fat, cold fingers."

Scarlett from Pittsburgh on NYTimes.com: "I have loved NYC since I visited it in 1967 and I have been there more times than I can count but now I will not go back. When a city government can tell me what I can drink, how much sugar I put in my coffee and some of the other unlawful regulations, I will not patronize New York. We are a FREE country, right? "

Red from New York on the NYTimes.com: "What is next, no neckties because they are a known choking hazard? No white shirts, they require toxic bleaching? No dry cleaning, it spreads dangerous solvents?"

Of course, there are those who say they support the ban, even in New York.

Cee from NY on the NYTimes.com: "You are what you eat ... given the alarming percentage of Americans who are overweight and the impact that has on our healthcare system and cost, we should be happy that there are those out there trying to address the public health problem."

Cchen from Germantown on NYTimes.com: "We regulate the financial industry to make sure they don't take advantage of those people who are not smart enough to know what is in their best interests, so why shouldn't we do the same for the food and beverage industry."

So which drinks will actually cause city consumers to suffer the sugar blues? What places will be forced to stop selling those super sized slurpees?

And does a tall half-skinny half-1 percent extra hot split quad shot (two shots decaf, two shots regular) latte with whip from Starbucks have to be pried from someone's lukewarm — and likely sugar free — dead hand? That all depends.

The ban hits sugary drinks like sodas that come in more than a 16 ounce container. Those big super sized 32 ounce drinks and beyond, will no longer be sold in most places.

The big sugar drink ban applies to restaurants, fast-food chains like McDonald's and Burger King, movie and stage theaters, delis and office cafeterias.

However, sugar lovers take note: there are some sweet spots still left open. Those are convenience stores, drug stores and supermarkets. They can keep selling any kind of sugary drink in the larger sizes.

So, while a a delicatessen or a Dunkin Donuts can't sell a big sugary drink larger than 16 ounces, a Duane Reade pharmacy down the street can sell a 20 ounce drink ... a 26 ounce ... a 32 ounce ... a 64 ounce ... or a 120 ounce, if they have it.

And anyone who buys a 16 ounce drink in a place that's banned from selling bigger sizes, will be allowed to refill their cup, depending on the place where they get it, and won't be forbidden from buying more than one drink.

Two key exceptions to the ban are diet sodas or fruit juices. Those can still be sold anywhere at any size. Also exempt from the ban are any alcoholic beverages.

Where the ban gets somewhat complicated is at a favorite coffee shop. Coffee drinks that are 16 ounces in size or smaller are unaffected. (Read more: Obamacare Wellness Programs Could Raise Health Costs)

But cups of java that are larger than 16 ounces can only be served if the barista adds no more than three to five packets of sugar to it. The number of packets depends on the size of the cup. The smaller the size the fewer packets can be put in.

Once a consumer has the drink in their own hands, however, they can go sweetly crazy and add as much sugar as they want.

Coffee lovers who need their sugar fix handed to them in large amounts might want to think about adding milk to their brew instead of having it black. That's because the ban does not apply to coffee concoctions that are more than 50 percent milk. The city considers milk a source of nutrition, even if it's drowned in sugar.

One other note, baristas can add as much of those sugar substitutes like Equal, Splenda and Sweet 'n Low to a cup, as they are not restricted by the new law for any size of coffee.

Sellers of the big drinks will have a three month grace period after Tuesday to get used to the law. But city officials have said they plan to start enforcing the ban immediately, and at least handing out warnings to violators. They could face up to $200 in fines after the grace period ends.

There's no fine for anyone buying the banned drinks, at least not yet.

Complaints about the ban have come from more than just potential customers. Makers and sellers of sodas and sweet drinks, including Coca-Cola and McDonald's, have attacked it as "misguided" and "arbitrary." A soft drink industry-sponsored group spent more than $1 million on a public-relations campaign in a losing cause against the ban.

The $61 billion a year soft drink industry has teamed up with various groups, including the National Association of Theatre Owners and the National Restaurant Association in a lawsuit against the ban, even after a local judge dismissed a legal challenge to the measure in January.

Bloomberg has billed the law as both a health and fiscal initiative to stop diabetes and obesity. New York City spends an estimated $4 billion each year on medical care for overweight people, Bloomberg has said.

And Bloomberg is no stranger to outlawing personal behaviors he didn't like, taking on salt and continuing his fight against cigarettes. He's pushed for food manufacturers to lower their products' salt content. In 2010, he announced that about 30 companies, like Kraft and Goya, had signed up to reduce salt in foods by 25 percent within five years, as a way of lowering consumers' blood pressure.

Last year, he signed a law making it illegal to smoke in the city's 1,700 parks and on the city's 14 miles of public beaches. Smoking is also prohibited in pedestrian plazas like Times Square.

Other cities have done the same about smoking. In states including California, Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, Utah and New Jersey, municipalities impose laws that prohibit city parks, or specifically named city parks, to allow smoking.

Whether other cities and states follow in New York's footsteps on a wide ranging sugar drink ban is uncertain. Most seem to be taking a wait-and-see attitude, though one other city moved in that direction even before the Big Apple.

Trying to decrease Boston's rising obesity rates, Mayor Thomas Menino issued an executive order in 2011 banning the sale and advertising of sugar-loaded drinks from city-owned buildings and city-sponsored events.

San Francisco and Los Angeles are among several cities that have also curtailed sugary drink sales on municipal property as well as banning sugary drinks and candy from public school vending machines since 2010.

More recently, several candidates for the Washington D.C. council have said they favor enacting a similar soda ban like New York's.

Americans consume on average more than 200 calories each day from sugary drinks — four times what they consumed in 1965 and medical evidence indicates that the rising thirst for the so called "liquid candy" has been a major contributor to the obesity and diabetes epidemics. (Read More: Despite Obesity Rise, Calories Trending Downward)

But getting a consensus on whether a partial ban on sugary drinks is the right thing to do may be as difficult as —agreeing on how much sugar people like in their coffee.

From Manu in Bridgwater, NJ on NYTimes.com: "Unnecessary waste of time, money, energy in my opinion - if the person can add as much later! It's a wash out!

From Ken Moselle in Victoria on NYTimes.com: "If the consequence is inconvenience for people ordering large drinks at Starbucks vs incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease.... well, it all seems kind of obvious to me. .. Elected leaders have an obligation to respond."

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