Latinos Lend a Hand to Soda Ban Fight in New York City


Published January 24, 2013

| Fox News Latino

The president of Hispanic Federation, which is supporting a lawsuit against New York City over its controversial soda ban, called the law “short-sighted” and “senseless.”

"The reality is – people can still buy multiple sodas." Jose Calderon told Fox News Latino. "If you’re going to be serious about addressing issues, we need to bring all different facets together to work collaboratively."

The Hispanic Federation was part of a diverse group that took the law regulating the sale of high-sugar drinks in cups or containers bigger than 16 ounces at bars and restaurants to court for “inconsistent and undemocratic regulation.”

The Hispanic Federation submitted testimony in support of a lawsuit filed by the American Beverage Association and others, including movie theater owners, in an attempt to prevent it from going into effect on March 12. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which has pushed for the ban on large-size sugary drinks, has argued it would help fight obesity.

The first courtroom arguments in the closely watched case ended without an immediate ruling. Opponents said they planned to ask a judge to delay enforcement during the suit, which has broached questions of racial fairness alongside arguments about government authority and burdens to business. The groups say in court papers that the soda rule will unduly harm minority businesses and "freedom of choice in low-income communities."

"This sweeping regulation will no doubt burden and disproportionally impact minority-owned businesses at a time when these businesses can least afford it," the groups said in court papers.

Attorney James Brandt argued during the hearing that "New Yorkers do not want to be told what to drink."

The Hispanic Federation did not participate in the hearing. But Calderon said the legislation "will have no effect on the obesity epidemic."

"Education as opposed to dictating something," is what the city needs, he said. 

The issue is complex for the minority advocates, especially given that obesity rates that are higher than average among both Latinos and blacks.

According to the Office of Minority Health, Latinos are 1.2 times more likely to be overweight.

"What’s going to solve the crisis is making sure we have a culture of physical education," Calderon said.

The NYC soda size limit has received waves of criticism and support ever since the city’s Board of Health approved the measure in September.

Opponents portray the regulation as government nagging that turns sugary drinks into a scapegoat when many factors are at play in the nation's growing girth. 

In the lawsuit, the groups argue that the first-of-its-kind restriction should have gone before the elected City Council instead of being approved by the Bloomberg-appointed health board.

The suit also argues the rule is too narrow to be fair. Alcohol, unsweetened juice and milk-based drinks are excluded, as are supermarkets and many convenience stores — including 7-Eleven, home of the Big Gulp — that aren't subject to city health regulations.

The care for obesity-related illnesses now costs the city more than $4.7 billion, with government programs paying about 60 percent of that, according to city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.