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NYC Soda Ban Is a Go

  • Mar 11, 2013 | Gail Cole

 Will NYC Soda Ban Inspire Soda Taxes?

Update, 6.26.14: The New York Court of Appeals has refused to reinstate New York City's ban on super sized sodas.

Update, 12.9.13: At the 11th hour, Mayor Bloomberg's soda ban was struck down in court. It was a "stinging defeat" for the mayor. The ban has been held up in litigation ever since, but the battle isn't over. The issue won't be resolved until after he has left office.

In spite of lingering protests and a lawsuit filed by the beverage industry, New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on large sodas and sugary drinks will take effect tomorrow, March 12, 2013. It's really more of a portion cap than an outright ban; people will still be able to drink as much soda as they like, but it will be harder to find sodas larger than 16 ounces.

Coinciding with the ban is the release of “new data highlighting strong relationship between sugary drink consumption and obesity.” A news release issued today by the mayor’s office reveals that “9 of the 10 New York City Neighborhoods with the highest obesity rates also consume the most sugary drinks.” Mayor Bloomberg said of the ban, "Obesity is killing more than 5,000 New Yorkers each year and demands bold steps to fight this crisis; this week New York City will do precisely that.”

Drinks subject to the ban

The city is defining sugary drink as “a nonalcoholic beverage that is less than 50 percent milk and has been presweetened by the manufacturer or the vendor with sugar or another caloric sweetener, like high fructose corn syrup, honey or agave nectar. To qualify, the beverage must … [contain] 25 calories per 8 ounces.” Drinks that contain more than 50% milk are exempt, as are “fruit smoothies and juices that contain only fruit and fruit juice, with no added sweeteners… .”

The New York Times Guide to Soda Ban lists a number of drinks subject to the ban:

  • Soda;
  • Fruit-juice drinks (lemonade, fruit smoothies);
  • Sports drinks (Gatorade); and
  • Pre-sweetened coffees and teas;

Business subject to the ban

Super sized drinks will still be available in New York City--they’ll simply be a bit harder to find. The ban applies to “any food service establishment that is regulated by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.”Businesses no longer able to sell super large sugary drinks include, but are not limited to:

  • Food-service establishments;
  • Movie theaters, bowling alleys, and the like;
  • Food street vendors; and
  • Stadiums (Madison Square Garden).

Grocery stores and convenience stores, on the other hand, are not subject to the ban.

Businesses have three months to comply with the new regulation. Businesses with questions should dial 311 and ask for “beverage portion rule.”

Domino Effect?

Mayor Bloomberg’s bold soda ban has angered many, but it has perhaps inspired other lawmakers to target sweetened drinks. Although California struck down a proposed statewide soda tax in 2011 and rejected soda taxes at the local level last year, the idea still has some traction in California. Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel) last month “introduced legislation that would levy a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages, including sodas, as part of an effort to fight obesity among young people.” If enacted, the California measure could fund childhood obesity programs to the tune of $1.7 billion.

Some supporters of taxing soda think that soda taxes at the local level would find more traction. Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy said that “as soon as any single place passes a soda tax, the floodgates are going to open.” (The Huffington Post).

That may be. A number of states already have soda taxes. Vermont lawmakers are currently considering one, and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (D) is considering repealing the sales tax exemption for soft drinks and candy. Kick the Can, which seeks to give the boot to sugary drinks, keeps track of state and local effort to tax soda.

As yet, however, the soda ban in New York City has not inspired similar bans or portion caps.

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Sales tax rates, rules, and regulations change frequently. Although we hope you'll find this information helpful, this blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal or tax advice.
Gail Cole
Avalara Author
Gail Cole
Gail Cole
Avalara Author Gail Cole
Gail began researching and writing about sales tax in 2012 and has been fascinated with it ever since. She has a penchant for uncovering unusual tax facts, and endeavors to make complex sales tax laws more digestible for both experts and laypeople.