Thursday, October 16, 2014

High-level, closed door meetings held to revive ban on large sodas in New York City-Wall St. Journal

"Dr. Bassett said in an email that the heaviest burden of obesity and diabetes falls on low-income black and Latino communities, which she said the beverage industry targets with pervasive marketing."

10/15/14, "Forward Push on Soda Ban," Wall St. Journal, "De Blasio Administration Considers New Ways to Cap Size of Sugary Drinks." Michael Howard Saul

"Mayor Bill de Blasio ’s administration is exploring new ways to regulate the size of large sugary drinks in New York City, holding high-level meetings behind closed doors with health advocates and beverage industry executives.

Mayor de Blasio has made clear he supports a ban on large sugary drinks,” his spokesman, Phil Walzak, said on Thursday. “The administration is currently considering plans on the best way to reach that goal.” 

The administration’s talks with lobbyists could revive an issue championed by Mr. de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg , who oversaw a sugary drink ban in 2012 that was eventually overturned by the courts. Mr. de Blasio, in a relatively rare display of agreement with Mr. Bloomberg, has vowed to find a way to limit the size of drinks, a move public-health advocates say would help fight obesity.

Mr. de Blasio has yet to sign off on a new approach. Mary Bassett, commissioner of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, deputy mayor for health and human services, have held meetings with advocates on both sides of the issue.

The meetings have included officials from the American Beverage Association, a national trade organization that successfully spearheaded the lawsuit that stopped Mr. Bloomberg’s ban, as well as executives from the nation’s leading beverage companies, including the Coca-Cola Co. KO -0.94% , PepsiCo Inc., PEP -1.33% and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group. DPS -3.03%
“We don’t think that discriminatory policies against our products are the way to go to address obesity or any health issues,” said Chris Gindlesperger, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association. He confirmed the meetings with the administration.

Mr. Gindlesperger said the industry hopes to work collaboratively with the de Blasio administration “to figure out what’s the best way to help New Yorkers cut their calories.” He described the industry’s relationship with Mr. Bloomberg’s administration as “toxic”; he characterized the handful of meetings with the de Blasio administration as “cordial and positive.”

Last month, at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual conference in Manhattan, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group voluntarily pledged to reduce America’s calorie consumption in sugary drinks by an average of 20% by 2025. 

Mr. Gindlesperger said the industry is eager to speak with the mayor and his aides about a plan for the city, using that agreement as the framework.

Officials from the soda companies declined to comment, referring questions to Mr. Gindlesperger.
In September 2012, the city’s Board of Health approved regulations that would prohibit restaurants, mobile food carts, delis and concessions at movie theaters, stadiums and arenas from selling sugary drinks in cups or containers larger than 16 ounces. The industry sued, and the courts ruled that the board, which is controlled by the mayor, doesn’t have the authority to approve such a sweeping set of regulations.

That power falls to the City Council, the courts said.

While Mr. de Blasio said last year he would pursue legislation if the state’s highest court agreed the council was the proper body to impose such regulations, the administration has been wary of introducing a bill.

A majority of council members, including Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, voiced opposition to the Bloomberg-backed regulations.

Councilman Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat and chairman of the council’s Committee on Health, said he opposed Mr. Bloomberg’s ban largely because of jurisdictional reasons. He said the regulations should be approved by the council, not the Board of Health.

Mr. Johnson said he welcomes a new proposal from Mr. de Blasio. 

“I am completely open to looking at a fair and healthy way” to regulate sugary beverages citywide, he said.
Others would take some convincing. 

Ms. Mark-Viverito is a close ally of the mayor, but a spokesman said her position hasn’t changed. “She supports approaches that are less punitive on small business and focus on education,” her spokesman said.

Thomas Farley, who served as health commissioner under Mr. Bloomberg and was a chief architect of the plan that collapsed, urged Mr. de Blasio to follow through on his pledge to advance drink-size regulations in the council and try to persuade council members.

“The soda companies hated [the ban]. They lobbied hard against it, and they reached a lot of council members. So, it would not be an easy thing to pass,” Dr. Farley said. 

Still, he said, “it would be good if he tried to persuade folks.”

Dr. Farley said the council could approve regulations that are broader than the original Bloomberg proposal. The council could eliminate some of the loopholes, he said, and apply the regulations “to any food that’s sold for immediate consumption” in the city.

Dr. Bassett said in an email that the heaviest burden of obesity and diabetes falls on low-income black and Latino communities, which she said the beverage industry targets with pervasive marketing. “Limiting portion sizes and looking for other ways to reduce consumption of these empty calories remains a public health priority,” she said."

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