New York: Ban on large-size soft drinks turns into a civil rights issue
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New York: Ban on large-size soft drinks turns into a civil rights issue

New York City : NY : USA | Jan 26, 2013 at 10:32 PM PST
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A man protests against restrictions on the sale of large soda drinks in New York in July

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has called for the ban on large-sized sodas and other sugary drinks. The move was considered necessary keeping in mind the rising obesity and other health-related issues due to rampant consumption of sugary drinks by the city residents.

However, the call for ban of large-sized sodas is being challenged by African American and Hispanic groups. A coalition of bodies which includes the New York State wing of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), famous for its fights against segregation and discrimination, is up in arms against the proposed ban. The protest against the ban is also supported by the Hispanic Federation, a group of 100 Latino organizations.

Both groups believe that the ban would affect independent convenience stores which are usually owned and managed by minorities. On the other hand, the ban exempts supermarkets and other convenience store chains such as 7-Eleven. The groups claim their stand is about “basic economic fairness.”

The ban, passed in Sept. 2012, applies to sugary beverages larger than 16oz (0.5 liter). However, diet sodas, alcoholic beverages and drinks that are more than 70 percent juice are exempt from the ban. The ban imposes a fine of $200 for restaurants and other entities who violate the law.

Significantly, African Americans and Latinos, the two communities represented by the NAACP and Hispanic Federation, are the worst victims of obesity and diabetes, the twin scourge that the Bloomberg’s ban aims to combat. According to officials of the New York city’s health department, Afro Americans and Latinos would benefit the most by limitations of high-calorie, sugar-filled drinks.

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So why are the two major proponents of the civil rights opposing a measure designed to combat a potentially lethal epidemic within the Latino and African American population?

The Guardian quotes Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP's New York state conference:

"The decision by the board of health to restrict the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages in packages or cups larger than 16oz is neither prudent nor helpful in the overall fight against obesity. The ban will be ineffective in that it does not get to the root of the problem of obesity in New York or in the African American community."

It seems that the unexpected opponents of the ban are being supported by largest manufacturers of the soda and sugary drinks. A report in the New York Times mentions that the New York City chapter of the NAACP enjoys close ties with large soft drink companies, especially the soft drink giant Coca-Cola.

The report further highlights that the civil rights organizations’ legal statement to the court proceedings, where the issue is currently being heard, was drafted and finalized by the counsel to the soft drink giant.

According to the report in New York Times, Coca-Cola has funded thousands of dollars to a health education program run by the NAACP. Further, the civil rights organizations’ position is a manifestation of the soft drink industry lobby.

These assumptions have triggered criticisms against the civil rights organizations that they are paying less attention to the health woes of African Americans and instead focusing on their own relations with large corporations.

Sources: The Guardian / BBC / The New York Times

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A man protests against restrictions on the sale of large soda drinks in New York
A man protests against restrictions on the sale of large soda drinks in New York
aymaan30 is based in New Delhi, Delhi, India, and is an Anchor for Allvoices.
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