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National Restaurant Association - Drinks ban passes in NYC; industry vows to fight on

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Drinks ban passes in NYC; industry vows to fight on

New York City's Board of Health has approved Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to ban the sale of sweetened beverages above 16 ounces at restaurants and other foodservice operations.

The health board, appointed by the mayor, voted 8-0 (with one abstention) in favor of the ban, which will prohibit restaurants, delis, food carts, stadium concession stands and movie theaters from selling sugared drinks, such as soda, iced tea, energy drinks, some smoothies and certain coffee beverages, in containers larger than 16 ounces. Unless blocked by a judge, the ban, which is the first of its kind, will take effect in six months, a board spokeswoman said.

The National Restaurant Association expressed disappointment in the passage of the ban, saying it unfairly targets restaurants and is a misguided tactic to impact the obesity problem.

"This proposal creates an uneven playing field from a business perspective, and produces a false sense of accomplishment in the fight against obesity," said Scott DeFife, the NRA's executive vice president of policy and government affairs. "The restaurant industry is committed to a proactive role in addressing obesity. We are disappointed in the board's vote today, and will continue to push for solutions that will truly impact consumer health in a positive way."

According to the mayor's office, the ban was proposed as a way of dealing with the city's growing obesity problem. Critics, however, say the ban by itself would not impact the issue and would just be a detriment to business growth.

"Proposals like the soda ban discourage new business and hurt our reputation as the dining capital of the world," said Andrew Moesel, a spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association. "Reducing obesity is an important goal, but we want to partner with government to come up with effective ways to confront the problem. What we don't need is more burdensome regulation making it harder for businesses to function and skewing the competitive landscape."

Eliot Hoff, spokesman for New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, a coalition that opposes the ban, said the group would continue to fight against the measure. The NRA is a founding member of the coalition. According to the group, more than 250,000 people signed a petition against the measure.

"This is not the end," Hoff said. "We are exploring legal options and all other avenues available to us. We will continue to voice our opposition to this ban and fight for the right of New Yorkers to make their own choices, and we will stand with the business owners who will be hurt by these arbitrary limitations."

Joy Dubost, Ph.D., R.D., the NRA's director of nutrition and healthy living, said the ban is "bewildering" because it restricts restaurants from serving the beverages even though consumers can purchase them in any size at convenience or grocery stores.

"According to the Centers for Disease Control, the majority of consumers purchase their sweetened beverages from convenience and grocery stores," she said, "and those stores aren't even included in the Mayor's proposal. Instead of demonizing sugary beverages in restaurants, we need to focus on policies and education that will truly influence behavioral change."

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