The New York City board of health voted Thursday to approve Mayor Michael Bloomberg's restrictions on the sale of sugary drinks, a decision likely to cut into movie-theater revenues.
The vote, which takes effect in six months, bans restaurants, theaters and stadiums in the city's five boroughs from selling sugary colas that are larger than 16 ounces. It does not cover alcohol, which is regulated by the state, or diet drinks.
Board members said obesity kills 5,000 New Yorkers a year, and is one of the most common health problems plaguing its poorer children. One board member described seeing young New Yorkers who have already lost limbs to diabetes.
They stressed that they were not merely "rubber-stamping" the mayor's proposal, which passed 8-0 with one abstention.
The effect on theaters could expand far beyond New York: Bloomberg sees the ban as another opportunity for America's biggest city to introduce health measures that other locations will also adopt. In the past, New York has led the way on banning smoking in public places, banning trans fats, and requiring food chains to post calorie counts. It says the new limits will make consumers more aware of their calorie intake.
With one of their major sources of profits threatened, theater chains like AMC and Regal have mounted a massive public relations campaign. They have displayed banners and posters and aired commercials arguing that New Yorkers should be allowed to make their own drink choices.
The chains, already dealing with fewer people going to movies, say they are being unfairly targeted. Although the size restrictions apply to restaurants, the rule still allows supermarkets and bodegas to continue selling larger sizes of sugary drinks.
Members of New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, the lobbying group that has led the objections to the new rules, told TheWrap that the group is examining legislative and legal challenges to the ban.
The board received 38,000 public comments on the ban, 32,000 of which were in favor of it, according to board staff. But it also received a petition opposing the ban with 90,000 names.
The city will carefully track the results of the ban to see whether it is making New Yorkers healthier, said Dr. Susan Kansagra, the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene's assistant commissioner of chronic disease prevention and tobacco control.