New York City's move to ban large, sugary drinks "discriminates against citizens and small-business owners in African-American and Hispanic communities" critics said in court on Wednesday.
At the hearing on Wednesday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, the NAACP’s New York state branch and the Hispanic Federation joined beverage makers and sellers in a lawsuit to try to stop the rule from taking effect March 12. The city Board of Health approved the measure in September.
Lawyers for the beverage industry attacked what they called an inconsistent and undemocratic regulation, arguing that the Board of Health Opponents turned sugary drinks into a scapegoat when many factors are at play in the nation’s growing girth.
"New Yorkers do not want to be told what to drink," attorney James Brandt told Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling, Minnesota Public Radiowrites.
The city rejected that argument. "It would be irresponsible for (the health board) not to act in the face of an epidemic of this proportion," the city says in court papers. The National Association of Local Boards of Health and several public health scholars have backed the city's position in filings of their own.
The New York Timeswrites that the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, said Wednesday that he was “disappointed” the N.A.A.C.P. had opposed the plan. “African-Americans are suffering disproportionately in this crisis, and I don’t think the N.A.A.C.P. should be siding with the big soda companies,” he said. “They are attacking public health officials who are trying to respond to that crisis.”
According to the city, about 70 percent of black New Yorkers and 66 percent of Hispanic New Yorkers are obese or overweight, compared with 52 percent of white non-Hispanic residents, based on a 2011 survey. The problem is often worse in low-income communities, The Times reported.
City officials also pointed to burden of care on the state in terms of cost for these citizens. Care for obesity-related illnesses costs more than $4.7 billion a year citywide, with government programs paying about 60 per cent of that, Commissioner Farley said.
In its brief, the N.A.A.C.P. conceded that obesity was a significant problem among blacks and Hispanics. But the group urged the city to create a more holistic program to attack the problem, including an increase in financing for physical education programs in public schools.
Bloomberg’s plan, the brief argued, would disproportionately hurt minority-owned small businesses, which faced competition from larger convenience stores like 7-Eleven that would be exempt from the soda restrictions because of a quirk in New York’s regulatory structure.
“At its worst, the ban arbitrarily discriminates against citizens and small-business owners in African-American and Hispanic communities,” the brief said.
There was no immediate ruling; Justice Milton A. Tingling Jr., who presided, did not comment.