There will be no SWAT teams policing Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial new ban on large sodas and other sugary drinks starting Tuesday, but city inspectors will be armed — with 17-ounce cups.
The Health Department plans to use regular restaurant inspections to make sure eateries are not selling sugary beverages in servings larger than 16 ounces. But the inspectors will have specially ordered cups to help them enforce the new rule, Deputy Health Commissioner Daniel Kass said.
He spelled out the new procedures in exacting detail in an affidavit recently filed as part of the legal challenge to Bloomberg’s anti-big-soda policy. “The measuring cups that we will be issuing ... will be able to contain 17 fluid ounces,” Kass said. Inspectors will be instructed to issue a violation only when a cup is found to “clearly exceed” 16 ounces “when measured in the inspector’s measuring cup,” he added.
Bloomberg proposed the ban last May — the latest in a series of public health policies by his administration to take a bite out of unhealthy habits in the Big Apple.
The Bloomberg-appointed Board of Health gave final approval in September, framing it as a major initiative to attack obesity. “Sugary beverages are a leading driver of the obesity epidemic that is killing more than 5,000 New Yorkers annually,” Bloomberg spokeswoman Samantha Levine said. “Our bold initiative — which will preserve health and save lives — has already changed the national dialogue about obesity and sugary drinks.”
In the affidavit, Kass explained that the 17-ounce cup was being used to provide restaurants with a margin of error. But that reasoning didn’t placate critics.
“Will they deploy sugar sniffing dogs to detect the amount of calories from sugar?” said Matthew Greller, a lobbyist for the National Association of Theatre Owners, one of the business groups trying to quash the new rule. “Can someone please call Jerry Seinfeld and request a reunion show just on this ridiculousness?”
“The ban is arbitrary and impacts businesses as well as consumers,” said Christopher Gindlesperger, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association. “So there’s a 1-ounce margin of error. I think there’s a lot of confusion.”
All establishments that receive inspection grades from the Health Department, including concession stands at movie theaters, ballparks and arenas, will be covered by the rule. New Yorkers also will no longer be able to order a family-sized bottle of sugary soda with a pizza delivery.
But convenience stores like 7-Eleven, vending machines and some newsstands are exempt, as are fruit juices, milkshakes and alcoholic beverages.
Health Department spokeswoman Veronica Lewin said inspectors had been trained for the drink-size inspections and were ready to go.
She said the frequency of the inspections depends on an establishment’s letter grade. A-graded restaurants are inspected once a year; visits increase as the letter grade drops. She declined to provide specifics about the special cup.