A judge blocked Monday the Bloomberg administration's effort to ban sugary drinks over 16 ounces, which was originally set to go into effect Tuesday, but the city plans to immediately appeal.
The measure, slated to take effect Tuesday, would have prevented restaurants, theaters, sports stadiums, and any place that receives a letter grade from the city's Department Of Health from selling sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces.
In his decision, State Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling said the ban is "unconstitutional and in violation of the separation of powers."
He went on to say the measure is "fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences," noting that it applies to some but not all food establishments and excludes some drinks that have significantly higher concentrations of sugar and calories on suspect grounds.
However, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters Monday evening that the measure controls portion size and is needed to confront an epidemic of obesity that he feels is as serious, if not more so, than smoking.
"We believe it's reasonable to draw a line and it's reasonable to draw a line right now," Bloomberg said about controlling beverage size.
The new rule would not have applied to supermarkets and convenience stores, such as 7-Eleven.
A three-month grace period would have been in place for businesses to comply with the ban.
Violators faced a $200 fine to be issued when cups sold clearly exceeded the 16-ounce limit.
The ruling is a blow to the mayor, who has argued that prohibiting many food establishments from selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces is a public health policy designed to save lives. The city had hoped the regulations would get New Yorkers to consume fewer calories, and would, in turn, lower the rate of obesity.
"With so many poor neighborhoods suffering the worst of this epidemic, we believe that it is reasonable and responsible to draw a line, and that is what the Board of Health has done," Bloomberg said. "As matter of fact, it would be irresponsible not to try to do everything we can to save lives."
In a statement, the city law department said an immediate appeal is necessary, saying, "This measure is part of the City’s multi-pronged effort to combat the growing obesity epidemic, which takes the lives of more than 5,000 New Yorkers every year, and we believe the Board of Health has the legal authority – and responsibility – to tackle its leading causes."
City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley also released a statement that said the decision threatens the health of New Yorkers.
"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," Farley's statement read. "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.”
Monday's ruling sides with members of several beverage and shop owners' groups who had argued the ban would place an unfair burden on small businesses.
"The rule, if imposed on restaurateurs, would have had a very harsh economic effect," said Joan McGlockton of the National Restaurant Association.
In a statement, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association said, "The court 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. With this ruling behind us, we look forward to collaborating with city leaders on solutions that will have a meaningful and lasting impact on the people of New York City."
The halt of the ban on large sugary drinks generated mixed reactions from New Yorkers.
"People shouldn't be eating sugar," said one.
"I really think the city should just stay out of it," said a second.
"Until there's an alternative for drinking a lot of soda or whatever the case may be, cigarettes, alcohol, trans fats, you're still going to wind up with the same problems," said a third. "People are going to want it, and they're going to find a way to get it."