60% in City Oppose Bloomberg’s Soda Ban, Poll Finds

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Theodore Ogunbiyi-Roche, 10, who is visiting from London, drank a large soda in Times Square this week.

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Published: August 22, 2012 354 Comments
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The big-soda ban is losing some of its fizz.


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Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Pedro Perez Smith, left, and Diego Camara Barbero, visiting from Spain, drank large sodas in Times Square on Tuesday.

Readers’ Comments

Three weeks before a scheduled Board of Health vote on the proposal, New Yorkers are cool to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to prohibit sales of large sugary drinks in city restaurants, stadiums and movie theaters, according to a new poll by The New York Times.

Six in 10 residents said the mayor’s soda plan was a bad idea, compared with 36 percent who called it a good idea. A majority in every borough was opposed; Bronx and Queens residents were more likely than Manhattanites to say the plan was a bad idea.

The proposal, which is expected to be approved on Sept. 13 by the health panel, is likely to have a broad impact: half of New Yorkers said they drank at least one soda a week; a third drink several per week. Only one in six said they did not drink soda at all.

The plan has galvanized a national debate over runaway obesity rates, and New Yorkers who agree with the ban pointed to its potential health benefits, particularly in combating obesity.

But those opposed overwhelmingly cited a sense that Mr. Bloomberg was overreaching with the plan and that consumers should have the freedom to make a personal choice — the exact same points used in an aggressive marketing campaign led by the national soft-drink industry in an effort to beat back the proposal.

“The ban is at the point where it is an infringement of civil liberties,” Liz Hare, 43, a scientific researcher in Queens, said in a follow-up interview. “There are many other things that people do that aren’t healthy, so I think it’s a big overreach.”

Bob Barocas, 64, of Queens, put it more bluntly: “This is like the nanny state going off the wall.”

The opposition to the plan spanned age, race, gender, political persuasion and soda consumption habits. But New Yorkers who approved of Mr. Bloomberg’s job performance were more closely divided: 45 percent called the soda plan a good idea, while 49 percent said it was a bad idea.

Supporters of the ban noted the high sugar content in soda and the prevalence of obesity and diabetes in the city, the same concerns cited by the Bloomberg administration.

“The public health issue is so serious that any disincentive to consume sugary drinks in large amounts, I would support,” said Sharon Williams, 71, a pastor who lives in Brooklyn. “I see it as a public health issue. I don’t see it as a civil liberties issue because if people want the option of having more soda at one time they can do that, they can buy two.”

Kenneth Hibert, 71, a retired security guard in the Bronx, said he frequently saw overweight New Yorkers ordering supersize sodas at McDonald’s. “Some people, when they drink too much soda, get too big,” he said.

The poll found that the mayor’s plan, which does not affect diet sodas, is likely to have a disproportionate impact on black and Hispanic New Yorkers, more of whom said they usually consumed regular, full-sugared sodas than whites.

Seven in 10 black New Yorkers, and about 60 percent of Hispanics, said they usually drank regular sodas, compared with nearly 40 percent of whites. Residents of Manhattan said they were more likely to drink diet soda than those living in the other boroughs.

Higher consumption of regular soda tracks closely with city statistics on obesity, which show that blacks, Hispanics and Bronx residents are more likely to be obese or overweight than whites and Manhattan residents.

In general, diet sodas, which replace sugar with artificial sweeteners and often have far fewer calories, are less popular in New York than regular, full-sugared drinks: 53 percent of residents said they usually drank regular sodas, and 23 percent said they usually drank diet. (Two percent said they preferred club soda.)

The American Beverage Association, whose members could stand to lose millions of dollars in revenue if the mayor’s plan is approved, has argued that there is little correlation between soft drinks and obesity.

The industry group has led a big-budget public-relations effort urging New Yorkers to “make their own choices” on soda, featuring advertising on local television, radio, social media and mass transit. Many ads feature a Statue of Liberty-like figure holding a soda cup, rather than a torch.

Even among New Yorkers who did not think the proposal was a good idea, some said the mayor’s plan, if approved, could have a longer-term effect by changing attitudes about soft drinks.

“Just having to commit to the act of ordering two makes you more aware that you’re committing it,” said Bettina Schneider, 44, a television producer in Brooklyn.

“I think it’s a slow shift to turn things around,” added Ms. Schneider, who said she rarely drank soda. “Maybe in the next generation it’ll start to have some tangible impact, but I don’t think it’s going to happen right away.”

The poll of 1,026 adults, conducted Aug. 10 to 15 using landline phones and cellphones, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Marina Stefan contributed reporting.