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A New York State Supreme Court judge today tossed New York City's plan to ban large sugary drinks from restaurants, movie theaters, street vendors and fast food outlets, one day before the new law was to take effect.

Justice Milton Tingling ruled the new regulation was "arbitrary and capricious" and declared it invalid, after the American Beverage Association and other business groups had sued the city challenging the ban.

The decision comes as a blow to Mayor Michael “Nanny” Bloomberg, who had urged the ban as a way to address what he has termed an obesity "epidemic." But beverage manufacturers and business groups had called the law an illegal overreach that would infringe upon consumers' personal liberty.

The ban had prohibited the city's food-service businesses from selling sugary drinks in units larger than 16 ounces, including not just soda but also fruit-juice drinks including lemonade, sports drinks like Gatorade, energy drinks, slushies, fruit smoothies, and coffee- and tea-based sweetened drinks. Drinks that are more than 50% milk (or milk substitute) were exempt from the regulations because the city considers milk a valuable source of nutrition — hence no ban on high-fat, sugary milkshakes or lattes.

The law would have forced consumers to pay higher unit prices for smaller bottles. Families would have also been pinched at kid-friendly party places, which would have had to do away with plastic pitchers that frequently hold 60 ounces, even though such containers are clearly intended to serve more than one person. Similarly, pizza shops were prohibited by the law from delivering two-liter bottles of soda with their pies. Foolishness.

Companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and McDonald's Corporation successfully argued that the ban was inconsistent in its application, since it would still permit grocery and convenience stores to sell such drinks in any size. In other words, a 20-ounce lemonade from a delicatessen: bad; a 64-ounce Big Gulp from 7-11: good. More foolishness.

While I do sympathize with Mayor Bloomberg's goals - obesity is an epidemic and arguably the number one preventable cause of a variety of expensive and deadly diseases - I think the law was ill-conceived, unfairly applied and an infringement, however well-intentioned, on individual liberty. As long as one is allowed to buy tobacco and alcohol, two products with more serious individual and societal health costs, targeting soft drinks seems arbitrary and simple-minded.

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