Everything You Need to Know About the New York Soda Ban

It's official: New York City restaurants will soon be barred from serving sodas in containers larger than 16 ounces.

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Reuters

It's official: The New York City Board of Health on Thursday unanimously approved Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial proposal to ban the sale of large sugary drinks in the majority of the city's food-serving establishments. 

The law won't go into effect until March 12, 2013, and business owners will be given a three-month grace period before they'll be fined for non-compliance. But today's ruling formally puts into motion the unrolling of an unprecedented number of regulations on how residents and visitors in America's largest city will consume soda and other high-sugar beverages in the future. Here's what you need to know:

Beverage Size: 16 ounces is the official upper limit on any sort of high-sugar drink, whether from a fountain or in a prepackaged bottle or can.

Beverages Included in the Ban: All varieties of non-diet sodas; sweetened teas, energy drinks or fruit drinks with more than 25 calories per 8 ounces (so yes, that means Honest Tea, too).

Beverages Not Included in the Ban: Drinks that are at least 70-percent fruit or vegetable juice, alcoholic beverages, or dairy-based drinks like lattes and milkshakes that contain more than 50 percent milk. It remains unclear whether Starbucks Frappuccinos, which contain milk but may not pass the 50 percent threshold, will be spared.

Businesses That Must Comply: Only establishments that receive a grade from the city's health department are included in the ban, so that means sit-down restaurants, fast-food restaurants, delis, movie theaters, stadiums and arenas, and mobile food carts and trucks will all be affected by the new rule.

Businesses Not Included: Supermarkets and most convenience stores don't get the same kind of food service grade from the health department, so 7-Eleven "Big Gulp" drinks will continue to exist in New York, at least for the time being. The same would hold true for newsstands and vending machines.

Is There a Chance This Could Be Overturned? It's possible. The Wall Street Journal reported today that opponents of the law, who range from representatives across the entire spectrum of the soda and beverage industry to civil libertarians who object to such fine-grained nanny state measures, "are exploring all possible paths to prevent the new ban from taking effect next year, including the possibility of a legal challenge." Still, Mayor Bloomberg has had a lot of success over the years convincing New Yorkers that his strident public health initiatives are a good idea, ranging from bans on smoking in public parks to trans fats to rules requiring restaurants to post calorie content information.

Is This Going to Happen in Other Cities? We think so. Refer to Eric Jaffe's analysis, including a brilliant Venn Diagram, on which cities have been quickest to copy Bloomberg's lead on public health laws to discover whether your city might be a candidate for a soda ban.

Top image: Benjamin Lesczynski, 8, of New York, takes a sip of a "Big Gulp" while protesting the New York soda ban on July 9, 2012. (Andrew Burton / Reuters)

About the Author

  • Sommer Mathis is editor of CityLab. Previously she spent five years editing and reporting on the D.C. metro area at DCist.com and TBD.com.