Big Ban: Mayor Wants to Ban Super-Sized Sugary Drinks

Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended his proposed super-size sugary drink ban Thursday, saying the government has an “obligation” to warn New Yorkers about potential dangers of consuming beverages with lots of sugar.

The administration is planning an amendment to the city’s health code that would prohibit restaurants, food carts, movie theaters and stadiums – any establishment that gets a letter grade from the health department – from selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces.

A can of soda is 12 ounces.

Speaking on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports on Thursday, Bloomberg said the proposal does not prohibit consumers from drinking soda – but it forces consumers to make a conscience decision about portions.

“We have an obligation to warn you when things aren’t good for your health,” he said. “I don’t think we have an obligation or even the right to take them away from you.”

He said the plan was not “perfect,” but “we’ve got to do something” to help combat obesity.

The city’s health commissioner, Thomas Farley, told the Brian Lehrer Show on Thursday that there is “strong evidence” of a link between sugary drinks and weight gain and health problems.

“We tried to limit our proposal to what we considered to be the biggest aspect of the problem, which are the huge portion sizes of the sugary drinks,” he said.

Drinks with nutritional value like juice and milk were exempted. He said the proposal isn’t a mandate -- it provides a guide for what an “appropriate” beverage size is.

“This proposal doesn’t prohibit anybody from drinking as much as they want,” he said.

But City Council Christine Quinn said that fighting obesity is about personal choices and limiting those choices does not empower them.

"It seems punitive," she said in a statement, "and I worry that in the end this proposal won't yield a positive result."

The idea immediately sparked renewed accusations that the Bloomberg administration is sticking its nose into matters best left to individuals.

"New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this. They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase," Coca-Cola Co. said in a statement. "We hope New Yorkers loudly voice their disapproval about this arbitrary mandate."

A sugary drink is being defined as any sweetened drink that has more than 25 calories per 8 fluid ounces and contains less than 51 percent milk or milk substitute as an ingredient. In other words, diet sodas, milk shakes and a venti latte won’t fall under the ban.

The administration is expected to submit amendment to the Board of Health on June 12, where it will enter into a three-month comment period. If it passes, which it is likely to, the ban could go into effect as early as March.

The proposal, however, will not be putting an end to free refills.

Listen to The Takeaway's analysis: Joining us is Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University and author of "Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety." Also with us is Jay Cowit, Takeaway Technical Director and Chief Soda