'Million Big Gulp March' protests NYC big-drink ban

A protest outside City Hall called the " A protest outside City Hall called the " Million Big Gulp March" in opposition to Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to limit the size of drinks. Alexa Voskerichian and Gabriella Palmieri from Queens pose as large drinks as they represent City Councilman Dan Hollorian. (July 9, 2012) Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

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A group of protesters clutching signs and giant sodas voiced their opposition Monday to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban on large sugary drinks.

The "Million Big Gulp March" drew dozens of people near City Hall to express their opposition to the mayor's quest to impose a 16-ounce limit on sugary drinks sold at restaurants, movie theaters, sports venues, delis and street carts.

The proposal, the latest measure pushed by Bloomberg in a battle against rising obesity, does not apply to drinks sold in grocery or convenience stores, such as 7-Elevens, which are regulated by the state. Violators of the ban -- which would apply to bottled drinks as well as fountain sodas -- could face fines up to $200.

The protest was organized by NYC Liberty HQ, a group of volunteers not funded by special interests, according to Zach Huff, the organization's spokesman.

One protester, Andrea Hebert, 55, of Manhattan, carried a 7-Eleven Big Gulp in one hand and a sign in the other that read "Bloomberg = Nanny State" on one side and "Nanny Bloomberg, stay out of our kitchens!" on the other.

"The mayor is wasting our time and wasting our tax money," said Hebert, a sales director. "It's not his job to tell us what to eat and drink."

The protest also attracted local politicians, including City Councilman and Republican nominee for Congress Daniel Halloran, who expressed anger that the ban does not need City Council approval. "Again the people don't have a say," he said. If the mayor wants to combat obesity, Halloran said, he should "make gym a required course for kids" and "build more baseball fields and soccer fields."

Huff said organizers and supporters represent a variety of political and social backgrounds, from "conservatives, libertarians to Democrats. "We are young and old and believe that the government needs to go back to their job, which is to protect people's individual rights."

The mayor's proposal has garnered the support from health insurance companies and professional medical associations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Even celebrities are weighing in on the ban: Filmmaker and Brooklyn native Spike Lee told New York magazine recently he's in favor of the proposal.

The city's Department of Health unanimously passed the proposal last month and has scheduled a public hearing for July 24, with a final vote in September. If approved, the ban would take effect in March.

With Denise M. Bonilla

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