NEW YORK — A far-reaching ban on large sugary soft drinks in New York City that is intended to fight obesity faces uncertainty after a group of business and trade associations challenged the decision in state court.
The 61-page lawsuit, filed on Friday in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, contends the New York City Board of Health usurped the role of the City Council and lacked authority to issue a rule to prohibit certain businesses from selling sugar-sweetened beverages that are larger than 16 ounces.
The ban is slated to take effect March 12.
"This lawsuit is about ensuring that the Board of Health respects the legislative process," said Caroline Starke, spokeswoman for the plaintiffs group, in a statement. "Despite strong and growing opposition from New Yorkers, the proposal was passed by sidestepping the city's elected legislators."
A spokesman for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg vehemently disagrees. “The Board of Health absolutely has the authority to regulate matters affecting health, and the obesity crisis killing nearly 6,000 New Yorkers a year — and impacting the lives of thousands more — unquestionably falls under its purview," Marc La Vorgna wrote in a statement to The New York Times.
Nearly 60 percent of New York adults are overweight or obese, and the figure for children is 40 percent, according to Bloomberg.
"This is the single biggest step any city has ever taken to curb obesity — and we believe it will help save lives," the mayor said last month.
But Starke said the ban "is riddled with irrational exclusions, loopholes and random classifications that will seriously harm New York City businesses."
Those businesses subject to the prohibition include restaurants, delis, fast-food franchises, movie theaters, stadiums and street carts; however, the ban doesn't impact grocery stores, convenience stores, 7-Elevens, corner markets and gas stations, according to the lawsuit, which claims the decision was "arbitrary and capricious".
"As a result, delis and hotdog stands are barred from selling a 20-ounce lemonade, but the 7-Eleven a few feet away remains free to sell Big Gulps," declares the suit.
The plaintiffs group is represented by a wide array of organizations, including the Teamsters Local 812, Korean-American Grocers Association of New York, National Association of Theatre Owners of New York State, National Restaurant Association, New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and the American Beverage Association.
The measure in New York is part of a broader effort in the country to reduce obesity. For instance, in an effort to curb childhood obesity, U.S. elementary schools have stepped up bans of unhealthy beverages from cafeterias, snack bars and vending machines.
Earlier this year, a study from the journal Circulation linked the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to a 20 percent increased risk of heart disease in men compared to men who did not drink such beverages. The American Beverage Association opposed those findings.