The effort by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to impose restrictions on the sales of sugary drinks has quickly ignited into a controversy that is being discussed far beyond the city he governs.
Specifically, the controversy has intensified following news reports this week that the the New York chapter of the NAACP was siding along with the American soft drink industry in opposing the Bloomberg initiative.
Proponents of the bill have pointed out that there is a higher rate of obesity and diabetes among African-American New Yorkers than for the city in general. What’s more, officials of the city’s health department have contended that Black and Latino areas of the city would benefit the most by restrictions of high-calorie, sugar-filled drinks.
In an article this week, the New York Times reported that the New York chapter of the NAACP had enjoyed close ties with large soft drink companies, most prominently Coca-Cola. It further reported that the civil rights organization’s legal statement to be filed in court proceedings where the issue is currently being heard was written by the counsel to the soft drink giant.
That set off criticism of the NAACP chapter by some New York elected officials, with some charging that the civil rights organization was paying less attention to the health concerns of African-American school children than to its own relations with a large corporation.
The Times reported that Coca-Cola has donated thousands of dollars to a health education program operated by the NAACP and that questions about the civil rights organization’s position on the issue were referred to the lobbying group of the soft drink industry.
That published report, along with criticisms by some prominent New Yorkers, produced a strongly written statement from Hazel N. Dukes, the president of the New York State Conference of the NAACP.
“Our stand against Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban is about basic economic fairness,” Dukes said. “Bloomberg's ban attacks the little guy, while giving a pass to big corporations.”
She continued: “As the new rules stand, small mom and pop stores in the city, which are disproportionately owned and operated by people of color, must comply with the law and suffer the financial consequences. Meanwhile, national chains like 7-11, which can handle the financial loss, are exempt. You can’t be serious about banning big sodas when you have a loophole for Big Gulps.”
Some Black elected officials, while stopping short of criticizing the NAACP, said they strongly approved of the mayor’s initiative.
“I am in favor of, in any way we can, discouraging children from drinking large quantities of sugary drinks,” said Karim Camara, a state Assemblyman from Brooklyn, in an interview with BET.com.
“There are studies that conclusively show a link between sugary drinks and diabetes and obesity in our community and it’s a problem that is prevalent among children of color,” said Camara, a Democrat.
“There isn’t much justification for allowing such large amounts of sugary drinks to be sold. I don’t want to discuss the NAACP’s position, but I do believe that we have to find a way to deal with this problem in communities of color.”
Not all Black elected officials are supportive of the mayor’s proposal to lower the rate of sugary beverages in New York City.
“I think we have far pressing issues that impact working families and poor families than to deal with the amount of sugary soft drinks students can consume,” said Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley, a Brooklyn Democrat, speaking with BET.com. “There are higher priorities for the mayor to take on.”
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(Photo: AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)