New York City's Board of Health voted Thursday to ban the sale of large sugary drinks from street vendors, movie theaters, bodegas and restaurants -- the first such rule in the country.

Despite receiving thousands of letters from New Yorkers, soda companies and restaurant owners opposed to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's initiative, the Board of Health passed the ban on sugar-laden drinks greater than 16 ounces in an 8-0 vote. A challenge to the ban, which goes into effect in six months, is possible.

Health department board member Sixto Caro abstained because he said the ban wouldn't do much to fight obesity.

Bloomberg later reiterated the initiative was aimed at reducing waistlines, not consumer choice.

"We're taking action because obesity is becoming a large problem," he said.

A city study found that if New Yorkers reduced their soda size from 20 ounces to 16 ounces once every two weeks, they'd collectively save 2.3 million pounds a year.

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The ban will affect about 24,000 businesses that receive letter grades from the health department, including restaurants, street vendors, bodegas, movie theaters and stadiums.

Drinks that are 16 ounces or more but have less than 25 calories per 8 ounces, and fruit juices and beverages made mostly of milk wouldn't be prohibited.

A representative for New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, a coalition of soda companies and city businesses that got 90,000 people to sign a petition against the proposal, said it's mulling a lawsuit.

"We're looking at different options . . . and will move forward," spokesman Eliot Hoff told reporters after the vote.

Some New Yorkers had mixed reactions.

"I like to drink a lot. A small cup is not enough," said Lacel James, 20, of the South Bronx.

But Robert Wilson, 52, a business owner from the West Village, said the ban could only help. "Will we have a healthier city as a result? I believe so."

With Sheila Anne Feeney