Bloomberg’s Supersized Soda Ban Fizzles

Judge dismisses regulations as ‘arbitrary and capricious’

In a huge victory for big soda and a blow to nutritionists, a New York Supreme Court judge Monday shot down New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on soda servings more than 16 ounces.

A day before the new regulations were to go into effect, State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling in Manhattan dismissed the ban outright, declaring it “arbitrary and capricious.” 

Tingling said, “The simple reading of the rule leads to the earlier acknowledged uneven enforcement even within a particular city block, much less the city as a whole. The loopholes in this rule effectively defeat the stated purpose of the rule.”

In a 36-page ruling, Tingling added that the city’s rationale for enacting the soda ban was predicated on two ill-defined terms:  “obesity” and “epidemic.” The judge added that the city had not demonstrated that consuming large quantities of sugary soda presented an imminent danger to its residents.

Among the many groups listed in the lawsuit against the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the New York City Board of Health are the State Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, the New York Korean-American Grocers Association and the National Restaurant Association.

In a pair of tweets posted moments after the judge ruled against the ban, the New York City mayor’s office said it would appeal the decision and was “confident” the measure would ultimately be upheld. “We believe @nychealthy has the legal authority and responsibility to tackle causes of the obesity epidemic, which kills 5,000 NYers a year,” a staffer advised the account’s 137,022 followers.

While the decision is a major setback to Bloomberg’s mayoral legacy in terms of public health initiatives—a point of emphasis during his three-term reign—it’s sure to delight everyone from 7-Eleven to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

In a statement released shortly after Tingling handed down his ruling, the American Beverage Association—one of the plaintiffs in the case—said the decision “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.” —with Christopher Heine