Bad for business. Good for public health.
Those are the diverging reactions to the New York City Board of Health's passage Thursday of a rule banning the sale of large-sized sugary drinks at the city's restaurants, movie theaters, workplace cafeterias and concession stands.
Backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the rule limits to 16 ounces or less the size of cups and bottles of nondiet soda, sweetened teas, and other high-calorie beverages, which can still be sold at supermarkets and most convenience stores.
The rule is "a good step forward" in addressing obesity and the incidence of diabetes, said Dr. James Tomarken, Suffolk County commissioner of health. Tomarken said he would support such a rule for Suffolk.
With obesity being "public health problem No. 1," re-establishing "a more moderate intake of sugary substances" will be helpful, he said.
"The message is -- moderation is better," which could spill over to other high caloric food choices, Tomarken said.
What's more, the rule "sets a precedent" for groups outside New York City, which may look to follow suit, he said, and could have a snowball effect throughout the country.
However, Robert Sunshine, executive director of the National Association of Theater Owners of New York State, said the rule is arbitrary because it prohibits the sale of a large-sized drink in a theater, but allows such a sale at a store right next door. His organization belongs to New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, a coalition of more than 2,000 businesses against the move.
He opposes the rule "not only because it impacts businesses and our theaters" but also because of the way it came about, Sunshine said -- through a board of people appointed to their jobs and not through the legislative process.
"Motion picture theaters of New York State support [the mayor's] effort to fight obesity," he said, "but we feel this is the wrong way to go about doing it."
Theaters in New York City will have to abide by the ban, he said, but could not say what, if anything, Long Island theaters might do.
"This is not the end," said Eliot Hoff, spokesman for New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, on the group's website. "We are exploring legal options, and all other avenues available to us. We will continue to voice our opposition to this ban and fight for the right of New Yorkers to make their own choices. And we will stand with the business owners who will be hurt by these arbitrary limitations."
Josephine Connolly-Schoonen, assistant clinical professor and executive director, nutrition division, at Stony Brook University School of Medicine said she is in favor of limiting the size of sugary drinks.
Consumers don't have a clear idea of a healthy daily amount of sugar, she said. And, while education is important, it alone does not bring about behavioral change, as people also need "supportive environments."
What's more, the ban doesn't really limit consumer choice, she said, as there's nothing to stop people from buying two drinks instead of one larger one, but "that might make people stop and think."
"The default choice should be the one that promotes and protects health," said Connolly-Schoonen, who said she sees daily the health impact on people "who suffer from the effects of excessive sugar," such as diabetes, high triglycerides and fatty liver.