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Long IslandPolitics

Soda ban hearing attendees mostly officials

When they had their chance to speak Tuesday, opponents of the mayor's supersized-soda ban largely held their peace.

Sixty of the 64 participants who signed up for Tuesday's public hearing at the Department of Health's offices were elected officials or representatives of groups.

The ban, which would take effect in March, would prohibit the sale of sodas larger than 16 ounces from any business that gets a letter grade from the city.

Most of the participants said the ban was needed because too many residents have obesity-related medical problems.

"It makes the healthier choice of a smaller drink size the routine choice," said Lois Utley, of the city's Public Health Association.

Soda companies and city businesses have protested the ban for weeks, saying it will reduce consumers' choices and hurt the economy.

Vanessa Lockel, the executive director at the New York City Beverage Association, said her companies were unnecessarily being singled out because of the obesity epidemic.

"It's very important to see it is distracting us from real issues," she said.

Several health experts who spoke before the Health Department's board disagreed.

Kelly Brownell, a professor of nutrition at Yale University, said the body processes calories from sodas differently from other foods and he considers larger portions toxic.

"One has to ask whether a poor individual gets diabetes what happens to a New Yorker's choice for life?" he asked.

The department received more than 30,000 online comments about the ban, according to a representative.

The board will vote on the proposal in September.

Health Commissioner Tom Farley said he thinks New Yorkers will accept the proposal because the obesity epidemic is killing 5,800 people in the city every year.

"If a virus were killing 5,800 a year, the public would be clamoring for government intervention," he said during a news conference before the hearing.

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