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A Supreme Court Ruling gave New Yorker’s a reprieve from the soda ban

By LORETTA CHIN and ROBERT GARCIA
Originally published on Brooklyn News Service
March 16, 2013

Several food vendors in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday after learning that the proposed ban by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to limit large sugary drinks had been struck down by a State Supreme Court judge.

“I don’t think the mayor has the right to control what the people want to drink,” said Pablo Oviedo, 48, owner of Ovi’s Place, a restaurant near the Brooklyn College campus. “Even if you put the calories out, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I run a restaurant here and people don’t care about the calories.”

Oviedo was prepared to remove the 20-ounce bottles in his beverage case if the ban had gone into effect. “Basically, people buy whatever they want,” he added. “I believe it will be better for people because if people want to drink more soda, what they’re going to do is buy more. Two instead of one big one.”

Oviedo compared it to buying cigarettes. “They raised the prices and the taxes and people are still smoking, buying cigarettes.”

Around the corner stood Luigi’s Pizza. Frank La Rocca, 50, has been serving pizza there for decades. Like the others, he was ready to have his distributor replace the 20-ounce bottles with 16-ounce bottles and said that it would cost the consumer more because the bottles were priced by the unit and the larger bottles could be less expensive.

“You have government dictating what I can and can’t do when I’m a legitimate business–that’s what hurts most,” he said.

La Rocca compared the ban to the Department of Health grading system: “It has nothing to do with the quality of food, not about the preparation, and I hate to say it like this, but it is Big Brother coming down on you.” He said that those who violated the ban would have gotten hit hard. “We don’t know because it didn’t go through yet, but the fines are astronomical,” he said. “The department of health and all these regulations are here for one thing and that is revenue.”

He argued that the ban would have compounded the problems faced by small businesses. “It maims the small guy because where do you go?” he complained. “You got to dig into your pockets.”

Next door was Leo Bura, 60, co-owner of Burger King, who had his worker listening to the news to learn of the decision on Monday afternoon. He was prepared to pull all the cups over 16 ounces off the shelves.

He expressed the same sentiments as Oviedo and said that it might have increased sales. “If you can’t get 20 ounces of soda, you’re going to get two ten-ounce cups,” he said. “They’re going to buy whatever they want to buy.”

He also questioned the effect on businesses with self-service soda stations. “How are you going to control those people?” he said. “You can only control the ones in front of the counter.”

He didn’t think the ban would affect his business. “The issue is not to control the size of the soda, it’s to educate the people about what they should consume,” he said.

Bura was also concerned about the fines and echoed that it would be just another money-making machine for the city

Down the block was Carl Luke, 38, manager of Quiznos, which has a soda refill station. He was aware of the coming soda ban and not too concerned because all he had to do was send the larger cups back to the company for reimbursement and put up a “No Refills” sign on his self-service soda, but did say that it would be hard to enforce the rules.

Luke agreed with the others about respecting the customers’ personal freedom but also sympathized with the health-related motives behind the ban. Yet, he argued, if you’re going to drink a 32-ounce soda, you should go to the gym.

Managers and workers at Applebee’s, McDonald’s, Target and Starbucks were also contacted, but refused to comment or provided referrals to their corporate offices. Except for Starbucks, they declined comment on their position and preparations for the soda ban.

“The customization of drinks is at the core of our business and customers make their own personal choices,” said a Starbucks spokesman. They are monitoring developments and not taking action now.

Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to appeal the ban and held a press conference at Lucky’s Café on 34th Street and First Avenue in Manhattan. “It wasn’t a setback for me,” he said of the judge’s decision. “It’s a setback for the people who are dying.”

Lucky’s owner, Greg Anagnostopoulos, said he was happy to back the mayor’s efforts to combat obesity. “We were complying before,” he pointed out. “We had 16 ounces as the largest. We know nutrition. Some people like it in smaller portions. Some people went next door.”

Bloomberg held aloft a 64-ounce KFC cup that would hold 800 calories in a sugared soft drink. “If you drink 800 calories full of a sugary drink, you are as hungry as before,” the mayor said.

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