US judge blocks New York ban on giant fizzy drinks

NEW YORK (AFP) - A New York judge blocked mayor Michael Bloomberg's planned ban on giant sodas Monday, dealing a setback to his public health agenda just hours before curbs on selling such drinks were due to begin.

Judge Milton Tingling ruled that measures to restrict soda servings to a maximum of 470ml in restaurants and other venues, were "arbitrary and capricious," and he was barring the plan "permanently." Bloomberg has made health issues a key plank of his administration, banning smoking in restaurants, bars and other public places. He quickly denounced the judge's decision on sodas as "clearly wrong," and said the city would appeal.

"I am trying to do what is right to save lives. Obesity kills," a visibly angry Bloomberg told reporters, noting that 5,000 New Yorkers and 70,000 US citizens would fall victim to the disease this year.

"Sugary drinks are a leading cause of obesity. We have a responsibility as human beings to do something, to save each other," he added.

But Bloomberg's super-sized soda ban, which would have been a first for a US city, sparked frenzied debate, with petitions and media campaigns from both sides.

Some supported Bloomberg's arguments, emphasizing that 30 years ago the average soda serving was just 170ml, but that these days, it's not rare to see young Americans with giant fizzy drinks of more than a litre.

Opinion polls over the summer indicated that a majority of New Yorkers opposed the limited ban, with some suggesting the mayor was impinging on civil liberties and others arguing the rules would not be effective.

Industry lobby groups led by the American Beverage Association (ABA) and the National Restaurant Association took the court action that led to Monday's judgment, and they praised the decision.

"The court ruling provides a sigh of relief to New Yorkers and thousands of small businesses in New York City that would have been harmed by this arbitrary and unpopular ban," the ABA said in a statement.