A planned ban on large-size sugary drinks by New York on health grounds is being challenged in court.
The limit was an "extraordinary infringement" on consumer choice, a lawyer for the American Beverage Association and other critics told the hearing. Opponents also are raising questions of racial fairness as the novel restriction faces a court test.
The New York state branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and the Hispanic Federation have joined drink makers and sellers in trying to stop the rule from taking effect on March 12.
Critics are attacking what they call an inconsistent and undemocratic regulation, while city officials and health experts defend it as a pioneering and proper move to fight obesity.
"New Yorkers do not want to be told what to drink," lawyer James Brandt told Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling.
The issue is complex for the minority advocates, especially given that obesity rates are higher than average among blacks and Hispanics, according to the federal Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The groups say in court papers they are concerned about the discrepancy, but the rule will unduly harm minority businesses and "freedom of choice in low-income communities."
The latest in a line of healthy-eating initiatives during Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration, the beverage rule bars restaurants and many other eateries from selling high-sugar drinks in cups or containers bigger than 16 ounces (nearly half a litre).
The city Board of Health approved the measure in September. Officials cited the city's rising obesity rate - about 24% of adults, up from 18% in 2002 - and pointed to studies linking sugary drinks to weight gain.
"It would be irresponsible for (the health board) not to act in the face of an epidemic of this proportion," the city says in court papers. The National Association of Local Boards of Health and several public health scholars have backed the city's position in filings of their own.
Opponents portray the regulation as government nagging that turns sugary drinks into a scapegoat when many factors are at play in the nation's growing girth.