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New York soda ban ruling could affect Cambridge

After a New York judge struck down a planned ban on supersize soft drinks in New York City on Monday, legal experts say it could have ramifications for other cities’ attempts to restrict jumbo sugary beverages -- including a measure proposed in Cambridge.

The ruling determined that the New York City Department of Health overstepped its bounds in ordering restaurants, movie theaters, and sports stadiums to restrict the size of sugar-sweetened sodas that they sell to no more than 16 ounces. The ban should have been voted on legislatively by the city council, the judge ruled, and the limits seemed arbitrary because they didn’t apply to other sweetened drinks such as coffee, or to large serving sizes from convenience or drug stores.

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A coalition of groups including the American Beverage Association and the American Restaurant Association launched the lawsuit, and there’s no reason to believe that these national groups would shy away from filing similar actions in other states.

The Cambridge proposal, first introduced by Mayor Henrietta Davis last June, would limit the size of sodas and sugar-sweetened drinks served in restaurants.

“I think it’s really important to understand that the New York decision is based on New York administrative law principles,” said Wendy Parmet, a professor at Northeastern University School of Law who specializes in public health law. “It’s really not a decision that says that government can’t do this but that under New York law, the city board of health couldn’t do it the way they did it.”

Whether the planned Cambridge regulation would face a legal challenge remains to be seen, but the city would need to tread carefully around state limitations on what municipalities can do without permission from state authorities, according to Parmet.

“The New York lawsuit is the warning shot that [public health authorities] have to be careful of how they go about doing” these sorts of food bans, Parmet said.

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.
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