On Tuesday, the New York City Board of Health will hold a public hearing for supporters and opponents of Mayor Bloomberg's proposed soda ban. The board will vote on the ban in September, and, if approved, it will go into effect in March 2013. (The board, which is comprised of an all-Bloomberg-appointed team, is expected to vote in favor of the regulatory measure.)
The mayor's plan to combat obesity will prohibit the sale of sweetened beverages in containers that are larger than 16 ounces. The ban targets street carts, restaurants and movie theaters -- but only one of those types of establishments is associated with super-sizing.
Bloomberg has long believed that the obesity epidemic can be linked to excessive soda consumption. In 2010, he announced that Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card users, who use the cards to receive public food purchasing assistance, would no longer be able to purchase sugary soft drinks with their benefits.
In May, the Mayor defended his soda ban proposal in an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer:
In New York City, smoking deaths are down to 7,000 a year from something in the 20 [thousand]s. Obesity deaths are at 5,000 and skyrocketing, Bloomberg said. Obesity will kill more people than smoking in the next couple of years.
On Monday, he confidently told reporters that despite opposition, the regulations will inevitably become a reality.
Compared to smoking, this is an easy battle to win and nobody's going to stop this, Bloomberg said.
Perhaps taking a cue from the tragic Dark Knight Rises massacre last week in Aurora, Colo., the mayor equated unhealthy foods and drinks to guns.
Guns and calories ... Maybe you can't put them too closely together, but they both limit our lives and kill off an awful lot of people.
So, which establishments will be affected the most? Street vendors, who typically do not sell anything larger than 12 oz. cans of soda, will not be dramatically affected. The ban does not include convenience stores, such as 7-Eleven, which famously sells Big Gulps, or Starbucks products, which are exempt on the basis of being dairy-based -- despite the fact that, for example, a 16 oz. Toffee Mocha Frappuccino has 340 calories, vs. the slightly less than 200 calories in a 16 oz. Coca-Cola.
So that leaves fast food chains and movie theaters to bear the most significant financial brunt of the Mayor's plan. And while the ban would outlaw only two of the soda sizes offered at McDonald's, some movie theaters may find themselves with a surplus of cups they can't use if the ban is passed: Enormous sodas are an essential part of the movie theater business model, if not the theater-going experience.
New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, a coalition of business owners opposed to the soda ban, has been campaigning at movie theaters throughout New York City in the weeks leading up to the hearing. At AMC theater locations, moviegoers are handed flyers when they present their tickets, and ad spots are shown before the feature presentation.
With over 104,000 members, including business owners and everyday citizens, Beverage Choices hopes to put a stop to the major's plan. Elliot Hoff, a spokesperson for the collation, believes that the ban will be ineffective.
Nothing good will come out of it, Hoff told the International Business Times. We believe it will have no impact on the city. It's a distraction. Obesity is a complex problem. Drinks are not the cause of it. There are a number of ways to lower sugar. Why drinks?
Hoff believes that focusing on soda is not the answer -- and that larger issues are to blame.
The ban could take the debate away from what is causing obesity, he says. There's a lack of funding for physical education in schools, for parks and for fresh foods.
When it comes to movie theaters, he is certain that the economy will be negatively affected.
A lot of people can't afford multiple drinks. For some, going to the theater is their entertainment and recreation, Hoff said. They may start to sneak in drinks, may not get drinks, or could seek a different form of entertainment. We don't know what's going to happen but we know it's going to have a drastic economic impact.
Manhattan movie theater employee Yugyen Lhatfo is sure that Bloomberg's decision won't go over well with moviegoers.
When people come to our theater, all they want are really large sodas. Personally, every time I go to a theater, I always buy the biggest one.
Brandon Serrano, a manager at Cobble Hill Cinemas, believes that this will greatly affect the revenue generated from concessions.
Two of our drinks are above 16oz. People that have been coming here for years know it as out smallest drink. Some theaters don't even have a beverage that small, he said. People will either buy two of our small sodas, which we'll have to start charging more for, or buy them in a convenient store and sneak them in.
If the popularity of smaller beverages is any indication, NY residents are going to have to modify their concession preferences.
Can you really get any smaller than 16oz? Our kid combo comes with a 10 oz. drink, and hardly anyone buys that, Serrano said.
As for the ban curbing obesity, Serrano doesn't see that happening.
No matter what, you can't really target it. They did that with McDonald's food and the trans-fat content. People are still big. This won't change anything.
Manhattan movie theater manager Lee Peterson believes the impending regulations are ludicrous, but he isn't surprised that it's happened.
When Bloomberg went after smokers, I knew it wasn't going to end there, he said in an interview Cigarettes were just the beginning. Then he required us to list the calorie count in our snacks and beverages, which was ridiculous.
When you're buying food and drinks at a movie theater, you've already made a decision to ignore calories.
Not surprisingly, Bloomberg's soft drink crackdown doesn't sit well with the National Association of Theater Owners, which released a statement condemning the Mayor's attempts to police the Big Apple's drinking habits.
NATO believes that Mayor Bloomberg's nanny approach to a serious problem will offend most New Yorkers as it will limit their freedom of choice in specific venues they attend for entertainment purposes to escape their daily routine. On average, people go to the movies only four times a year, and purchase concessions even less, so including movie theaters in any regulation only diverts resources and attention from the real source of the problem---lifestyles.
A number of theater-going New Yorkers have utilized social media to express their disdain for the Bloomberg's plan.
That ban would totally ruin the way my husband and I share a soda at the movie theater, remarked one Twitter user.
Addicted to that 3 gallon soda at the movie theater? Better start weaning yourself off, quipped another.
A NY1-Marist college poll revealed that the majority of New Yorkers are against the controversial proposal. A whopping 53% believe Bloomberg is enacting a form of government control rather than a healthy diet plan. When it comes to whether or not the plan will work, 52% believe it won't.
Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, believes that the poll is a telling indicator of public disfavor.
Unfortunately for Mayor Bloomberg, New Yorkers find the glass to be half empty on his proposal to ban super-size drinks.