Big win for Big Soda: Judge halts New York City’s ban on sugary drinks

Drink on, folks, drink on.
Drink on, folks, drink on.
Image: AP Photo / Kathy Willens
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Updated at 3:59 p.m. EDT with more detail about lobbying efforts.

A judge has halted New York City’s ban on large sugary drinks just a day before it was to go into effect, handing a major victory to the American beverage industry, which had feared that soda bans could spread across the country.

The regulations imposed by New York are “fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences,” New York Supreme Court judge Milton Tingling wrote in his opinion today. This chunk seems to sum up Tingling’s views. (See below for the full opinion.)

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The ban was to apply to sugary drinks served in containers larger than 16 ounces at restaurants, theaters, and food-service establishments. It wouldn’t have applied to supermarkets and some convenience stores like 7-Eleven.

One of the most active groups fighting the ban, New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, describes itself as a “coalition of citizens, businesses, and community organizations who believe that consumers have the right to purchase beverages in whatever size they choose.” The group was in fact created by the PR firm Goddard Gunster, which was hired by the American Beverage Association. Goddard Gunster’s founder, Ben Goddard, created the infamous “Harry and Louise” ad campaign that killed off health reform efforts under US president Bill Clinton.

The NAACP and the Hispanic Federation joined the ABA in filing a lawsuit to block the soda ban in October.

The NAACP and Hispanic Federation hired the law firm King & Spalding to represent them in contesting the ban. King & Spalding is also the longtime Atlanta law firm of Coca Cola, which has donated more than $100,000 to the NAACP. The Hispanic Federation also has a close relationship with Big Soda: Its former president, Lillian Rodríguez López, recently took a job with Coca-Cola as the company’s director of Latin affairs.

The NAACP and the Hispanic Federation argued that the ban would disproportionately hurt minority business owners, but blacks and Hispanics are also disproportionate sufferers of obesity.

While New York is at the vanguard of American efforts to regulate sugary drinks, there have been related efforts in Europe. France approved a tax on soda last year and there’s talk of a similar tax on sugar. On the other hand, Denmark recently scrapped its so-called fat tax, first introduced in 2011, after finding that it didn’t change the eating habits of Danes. Apparently, Danes just began to do their grocery shopping in neighboring countries in order to avoid paying the levy.

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