City goes to court to defend soda ban

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The city defended its groundbreaking size limit on sugary drinks Wednesday as an imperfect but meaningful rein on obesity, while critics said it would hurt small and minority-owned businesses and do little to help health.

The first courtroom arguments in the closely watched case ended without an immediate ruling -- and with opponents saying they planned to ask a judge to delay enforcement during the case, which has broached questions of racial fairness alongside arguments about government authority and burdens to business.

The NAACP's New York state branch and a network of Hispanic groups have joined a legal effort to block the first-of-its-kind restriction, igniting questions Wednesday about the groups' ties to the beverage industry.

Beverage makers, restaurateurs, minority advocates and other critics told a judge the upcoming 16-ounce limit was a finger-wagging incursion on consumer choice, rife with inconsistencies that would cost a hot dog vendor business while still allowing New Yorkers to buy belly-buster sodas at the chain convenience store next to him. Opponents' lawyers called it "ham-handed," "grossly unfair" and just "plain silly."

"New Yorkers do not want to be told what to drink," attorney James Brandt said.

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City lawyers acknowledged the rule's limitations. It doesn't apply to all high-calorie drinks or all places that sell them, largely because of the city can regulate only some establishments. But it's still a reasonable and needed move to take on the city's growing weight problem and the diseases linked to it, they said.

"While this may not be a silver bullet that will cure the obesity epidemic, it's rational," said the city Health Department's chief lawyer, Thomas Merrill.

The suit, filed by the American Beverage Association and others, seeks to block the restriction, set to take effect March 12.

-- AP

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