Reuters / Shannon Stapleton
Reuters / Shannon Stapleton

Big Apple residents with big thirsts were victorious Thursday this week when an appeals court in the Empire State said New York City officials lacked the authority to implement a ban against large beverages.

The decision handed down by the state’s Court of Appeals in Albany by way of a 4-2 ruling Thursday morning now means that former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign to keep big drinks out of area businesses has officially hit the end of the road.

New York City’s Board of Health voted unanimously in 2012 to accept the Bloomberg-led initiative to ban sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces from local eateries, movie theatres, sports stadiums and food carts, but the effort was fought tooth-and-nail by beverage companies, bottlers and restaurant industry stakeholders who said the city had overstepped its bounds.

“By choosing among competing policy goals, without any legislative delegation or guidance, the Board engaged in law-making and thus infringed upon the legislative jurisdiction of the City Council of New York,” Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. of the New York State Court of Appeals wrote for the majority in a 20-page opinion published Thursday.

The American Beverage Association — an opponent of the would-be ban — hailed the court’s decision in a statement published soon after, saying a different outcome “would have created an uneven playing field for thousands of small businesses in the city and limited New Yorkers’ freedom of choice.”

If enacted, the ban would have barred thousands of New York City establishments from selling sugar-sweetened drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces, but would not apply to diet sodas, certain fruit juices and beverages containing alcohol. Coupled with similar restrictions against trans fats in restaurants and cigarette smoking in public parks, the attempted so-called “soda ban” was nevertheless just one facet of Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign to curb the city’s health problems by way of regulation. His successor, Bill de Blasio, carried on the Bloomberg administration’s campaign to have the Board-approved soda restrictions deemed lawful, but Thursday’s decision now marks the third time that the courts have ruled otherwise.

Speaking on behalf of the dissenting justices, though, Judge Susan P. Read blasted the majority ruling by writing that it “misapprehends, mischaracterizes and thereby curtails the powers of the New York City Board of Health to address the public health threats of the early 21st century.”

“While my colleagues in the majority may be troubled by this state of affairs, it is not their proper role to change it,” Read wrote.

Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the city’s health commissioner, said in a statement issued later Thursday that the ruling “does not change the fact that sugary-drink consumption is a key driver of the obesity epidemic.”

“We will continue to look for ways to stem the twin epidemics of obesity and Type 2 diabetes by seeking to limit the pernicious effects of aggressive and predatory marketing of sugary drinks and unhealthy foods,”she wrote.

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