Analysis: Slippery Slope of Soda Ban Slides Beyond NYC

Statewide action would extend cup size limits to convenience stores

Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News

NEW YORK -- Barring some last-minute ruling by a state judge, New York City’s ban on the sale of fountain drinks larger than 16 ounces goes into effect tomorrow. As a sign of solidarity with beverage retailers and consumers in the country’s largest city, I purchased the largest, sugariest (I’m looking at you, Mountain Dew) fountain drink I could find on the way into the office.

And as CSP’s beverage specialist, I’m keeping an eye on this issue, one that has the potential to stretch well beyond the borders of Gotham. In fact, as I write this, a similar ban is getting support in Washington, D.C., where four of seven candidates seeking a seat on the City Council said they would back a ban on large sodas, similar to the one introduced by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year.

At the same time, Bloomberg is pushing New York State to pick up the ban, as well. For convenience store owners, concern to date has been limited because the NYC ban did not extend to that retail channel, focusing instead on restaurants, bars and movie theaters. And a major issue of a pending lawsuit seeking to overturn the soda ban is the argument that the NYC ban is not comprehensive, targeting only specific retail channels. But the proposed statewide ban could change that.

Initially, Bloomberg was patted on the back for recognizing the importance of soda sales (and the strength of the lobby) of convenience and grocery stores and not including them in the soda-size ban. However, the truth of the matter, according to a Village Voice report, is that Bloomberg doesn’t have the authority to include c-stores in the ban.

If a retailer “makes less than 50% of its sale from processed foods, that enterprise is under the oversight of New York State's Department of Agriculture, not the city,” according to the report.

With that in mind, Bloomberg has turned to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In late February, Bloomberg asked the state leadership to consider a similar, statewide soda ban, closing the loophole and extending the consequences well beyond the borders of NYC.

“Keep in mind, we're trying to save the lives of these kids,” Bloomberg told the New York Post. “The state should do exactly the same thing in stores."Gov. Cuomo's office is said to be preparing a response.

So if NYC convenience store retailers had reason to breathe a sigh of relief when the ban was approved, they also had reason to be troubled by it, as the chairman of the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees said back in September.

“While the ruling does not specifically apply to 7-Eleven and convenience stores in general, we view this as a first step down a slippery slope of unnecessary, unwanted and unwarranted government intervention in the choices people make about their intake of foods and beverages,” chairman Bruce Maples stated.

Well, barring approval of a temporary injunction in the pending lawsuit to stop the NYC soda ban, that intervention is about to slip one more notch down the slope, and the incline is getting more and more slippery every day.

Do I want my pre-teen children drinking quart after quart of sugary drinks? No. And I’ll be vigilant to make sure that doesn’t happen. Do I need a legislator to tell me I--an adult--can’t have 44 ounces of sugar water today? Absolutely not!

Steve Holtz, CSP/Winsight By Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News
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