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NAACP says Bloomberg's soda ban unfair to small business

A protester rallies against a New York City regulation that makes it illegal for stores and restaurants to sell sodas larger than 16 ounces. The New York State Conference of the NAACP, along with the Hispanic Federation, filed an amicus brief that calls Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on sugary drinks more than 16 ounces in size an attack on small and minority-owned businesses — disproportionately affecting those who can least afford it. Photo by AP.
February 04, 2013
The New York State Conference of the NAACP, along with the Hispanic Federation, filed an amicus brief that calls Mayor Bloomberg's ban on sugary drinks more than 16 ounces in size an attack on small and minority-owned businesses — disproportionately affecting those who can least afford it.

The ban, enacted by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene last year, prohibits food service establishments — restaurants, delis, bodegas, fast-food franchises and street carts — from selling sugar saturated beverages in cups or containers that can hold more than 16 ounces, and would fine the business establishments up to $200 if the ban is violated.

However, large chain grocery and convenience stores are not required to comply with the ban because they are not considered food service establishments.

"Our stand against Mayor Bloomberg's soda ban is about basic economic fairness. Bloomberg's ban attacks the little guy, while giving a pass to big corporations," said New York State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Hazel Dukes, in a press release.

"If [Bloomberg] is serious about taking this issue on, he cannot single out bodegas who will struggle to adapt and compete with corporate franchises."

The state chapter of the NAACP and Hispanic Federation are calling the 16 ounce ban "overboard" since it includes self-service cups or containers "regardless of the type of beverage the customer might fill it with," and referred to it as "dramatically under-inclusive," as it exempts all alcoholic beverages as well as beverages that contain 50 percent milk — which would include milkshakes, chocolate drinks or high-calorie coffee — regardless of size, according to the brief.

"New Yorkers thus remain free to purchase a 32-ounce Big Gulp filled to the brim with a high-calorie, sugar-sweetened beverage from a neighborhood 7-Eleven, but they are not free to purchase a 20-ounce soda from their local bodega," according to the legal brief.

One significant argument against the ban is that it "violated fundamental separation-of-powers principles that reserve critical policy decisions to the legislative branch," and that it is not up to unelected officials, such as Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Thomas Farley, to enact such a ban.

The ban was passed despite the thousands of comments in opposition that the Board of Health received before the ban was enacted, including letters from members of the City's legislative branch, the City Council, other elected officials and community leaders. According to the brief, the City Council had previously opposed Bloomberg's several attempts to impose similar measures.

Critics say the ban is an imposition on personal freedom, and assumes that with the proper education and tools, people are incapable of making their own decisions regarding their health. Moreover, they feel the ban fails to provide a comprehensive solution to the obesity epidemic.

The NAACP and Hispanic Federation are not denying that obesity is a serious problem affecting people of color, with obesity rates for African Americans who are 20 years of age and older at more than 38 percent for men and more than 54 percent for women, according to an article written by Dukes for The Huffington Post.

The NAACP has implemented Project HELP — Healthy Eating, Lifestyles and Physical Activity — which is designed to improve the overall quality of life for African Americans through health education, and consider initiatives that educate people on risk factors caused by unhealthy easting.

"The real reason for obesity is obvious, people consume more calories than they burn. An edict limiting the sizes of sugared soft drinks does not address this central fact," said Dukes.

The Hispanic Federation representatives also agree a proper solution would be to expand health and physical education programs in public schools.

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