Friday, June 27, 2014

New York's Court of Appeals Kills Bloomberg's Soda Ban Legislation

The top court in New York, the Court of Appeals, ruled against the Bloomberg era soda law that limited certain carbonated beverage sizes. The law was convoluted, hard to administer, and ignored that there were entire classes of beverages that delivered the same or greater amounts of sugar but were exempt from the size restriction.

The court properly ruled against the soda size ban both substantively and procedurally. Mayor Bloomberg seems to have targeted those products that he thought he could ban without a stiffer fight - rather than following the science.
“By choosing among competing policy goals, without any legislative delegation or guidance, the Board engaged in law-making and thus infringed upon the legislative jurisdiction of the City Council of New York,” Judge Eugene F. Pigott wrote for the majority in 4-2 decision.

The ruling likely strikes the final legal blow to the controversial policy enacted by Mayor Bloomberg’s administration to ban large sugary beverages over 16 ounces.

Administration officials had argued the policy was necessary to combat the growing problem of obesity.

In arguments before the court earlier this month, city attorney Richard Dearing argued the 2012 regulation was a reasonable and science-based effort to combat obesity.
The ultimate goal was a worthy one, but that doesn't trump fact that the law was poorly written, it didn't follow the science, and infringed on personal rights and choices.

The law was so poorly thought out that it would have added costs to restaurants and businesses selling drinks by the cup, but it wouldn't appear to ban refills, which is yet another way to circumvent the ban on portion size. It ignored those beverages that are sold at places like 7-11 like the Big Gulp, as well as 2-liter beverages sold in grocery stores, but targeted only those beverages sold by the cup in restaurants. That was a restriction unfairly targeting those businesses and put them at a disadvantage. A restaurant couldn't sell a 32 ounce soda beverage, but the 7-11 next door could.

The law also ignored just how many calories were present in fruit juices, coffee products, and other products that are non-carbonated. That meant that sweetened ice tea wasn't restricted, but a soda beverage with the same calorie count per ounce would be restricted. It made no sense until you realize how the law was shaped by the need to get something passed and this was the path of least resistance; it had nothing to do with science.

And, as I've noted before, the soda makers could rebut the empty calories claims by adding vitamins and minerals to the soda products (and we're already starting to see some of that). It also ignores that obesity isn't the product of drinking more soda - if anything consumption of soda has declined, but obesity rates have continued to increase. Even the shift to more sugar-free sodas hasn't reduced the obesity epidemic. It's because people substitute even more calories from other sources when they think that they're not getting calories from soda. They pile on to their plates when they think they're getting a calorie free soda.

Obesity is a product of a sedentary lifestyle and consumption choices. Bloomberg seems to think that hiking the price of soda (which is what the ban on super-sized beverages would have) will result in reduced consumption and lower obesity levels. I expect that people will simply choose other alternatives and continue consumption of all calories at existing levels. Substitution will occur - not reduction.

The problem is that obesity isn't something as simple as cutting out soda. It means reducing overall calories, changing lifestyles, and making better and healthier diet choices.

The soda ban doesn't accomplish any of that. And the Court properly struck it down.

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