By Eric Goldschein
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is taking America's fight against obesity out of the people's hands.
In a first-of-its-kind plan, the Bloomberg administration announced a proposed ban on the sale of sweetened drinks larger than 16 ounces by food establishments under the city's jurisdiction; for those regulated only by the state, it will be business as usual.
Banned drinks would include bottled sodas, sweetened coffee or tea, and fruit drinks with sugar. Diet sodas, dairy-based milkshakes — no matter how sugary — and any drink with less than 25 calories per 8-ounce serving, would be exempt from the ban.
The rule could go into effect as early as March 2013.
Delis, fast-food restaurants, sports arenas, movie theaters, food carts and other venues inspected by the city's Department of Health will face fines of $200 for violations committed after an initial three-month grace period.
Supermarkets and bodegas that fall under the state's Department of Agriculture and Markets would be exempt.
Once again, Brooklynites expressed aggravation over "Nanny Bloomberg" telling them what they can and cannot do. Others expressed support for limits.
"It's a good thing," said Bernard Major, sitting in a Checkers fast-food restaurant on Court Street in Downtown Brooklyn. "This is a medium soda," he said, holding up his drink, "and it's a lot. Some people have no control over themselves, and we need to cut down on our calories."
"There could be other ways to fight this, but they've tried it. [This law] is going to a place that hurts people," Major added.
While individual patrons may welcome a limit, small businesses argue that the law will be painful.
"It will be bad for business," said Brandon Serrano, manager of the Cobble Hill Cinema on Court Street. "I think that people should be able to choose what size soda they want. If you think about it, if you can’t sell over 16 ounces, people will just come buy two smaller sodas."
When asked if patrons buying multiple sodas could be a boon for business, Serrano didn't think so. "You'd have to make the smaller sodas a fair price, so you wouldn't be turning a profit. It seems like Bloomberg is against us and it will hurt us."
Having already led the charge in banning smoking in public places and removing trans fat from restaurant food, Bloomberg is setting his sights firmly on soda. After supporting a failed state tax on soda, and trying to prevent food stamps from being used to buy it, Bloomberg is now looking to cut down on the serving sizes, rather than cutting access to the drink altogether.
And perhaps with good reason: Over the past 20 years, obesity levels in the United States have doubled. In New York, more than half of the adult population is overweight or obese, and one in five children is obese.
Serrano didn't buy it that banning large sodas was the only method to take.
"I understand the obesity issue, but [the Bloomberg administration] is not going the other way as well. What about helping people get healthier in other ways? I had to drop my gym membership recently because it was too expensive. How about help with that? It's not a fair trade-off," he said.
The limits placed on big-soda sales may hurt small businesses, but large chains may be able to adapt more smoothly. Herman Herman, the manager of a Dunkin' Donuts down the street from the theater, was of two minds about the ban.
"At first, I think it's a bad idea because people get thirsty and want a lot to drink. But for us, we buy so much sugar every week, we could cut down with a ban," he said, perhaps thinking with the chain-store mentality that a smaller business cannot afford.
"Less sugar is good," he concluded.
There are, of course, loopholes in the law. When the law is enacted, large self-serve cups will disappear from fast-food restaurants — but refills will still be allowed. And some New York eateries have escaped city scrutiny by registering with the state as supermarkets or wholesalers, which would allow them to continue selling large sugary drinks.
The main issue for consumers comes down to personal choice, with some upset that the government is infringing on that choice, and others conceding that steps need to be taken to counteract the city's obesity epidemic.
"Sometimes you gotta have a limit," said Ann-Marie Kallon, who stirred a straw through a large Checkers soda cup as she spoke. "And there's more to life than just soda."