By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Michael Bloomberg suffered a major setback in his plan to prevent New Yorkers from consuming super-sized sugary sodas, but an ally of the mayor’s in the fight against obesity is preparing for battle on another front.
Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Sunset Park-Bay Ridge) said he thinks New York State should charge a tax on soda. Ortiz is drafting a bill that would put a surcharge of one penny per ounce on sugary drinks. A 20-ounce soda would carry a tax of 20 cents, for instance.
Under Ortiz’s plan, the tax revenue would be used to fund childhood nutrition programs, physical education, and health awareness in schools.
“Over the past 30 years, consumption of sugary beverages in United States has more than doubled,” Ortiz said. “This trend will increase cases of diabetes and catastrophic diseases. As we create a healthy nutritional environment for our children, we secure their health and future,” he said. Ortiz said he will introduce the bill soon.
Ortiz’s plan was announced on May 14, a month after the Bloomberg Administration lost a court battle over the mayor’s plan to ban sales of sodas larger than 16 ounces. A New York State Supreme Court justice ruled that the mayor’s plan was unconstitutional. The Wall Street Journal reported at the time that Justice Milton Tingling ruled that Bloomberg had exceeded his authority in imposing the ban when he bypassed the City Council, an elected body, and instead pushed the item through the city's Board of Health, a panel whose members are appointed by the mayor.
At the time the decision was rendered, the New York City Law Department vowed to appeal.
When he first introduced his soda ban plan, the mayor stated that he was doing it out of a concern for the health of New Yorkers. “If we are serious about fighting obesity, we have to be honest about what causes it. And we have to have the courage to tackle it head-on. Now, the best science tells us that sugary drinks are a leading cause of obesity. Some people say: Just talk about the problem, raise awareness, and hope that results in change. But it's not enough to talk and it's not enough to hope,” Bloomberg said.
Ortiz said he isn’t waiting for the court case to be completed. The issue of obesity and its incurrent health care costs is too important, he said. “Obesity is one of the biggest health issues facing Americans today. We are now consuming 200 to 300 more calories each day compared to our calorie intake 30 years ago,” Ortiz said.
“A majority of these extra calories come from sugar-sweetened drinks. These drinks supply 10 percent to 15 percent of total daily calories, both in children and adults, while providing no nutritional value. In New York City alone, nearly 40 percent of children, who are attending public schools, and 57 percent of adults, are either overweight or obese,” he said.
Ortiz has previously championed legislation to require calorie information on fast food and chain restaurant menus and created the New York State Childhood Obesity Prevention Program.