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How a New York ban on sugary drinks may affect business

Twenty-ounce plastic soda bottles for sale. New York Mayor Bloomberg wants to ban larger-sized soft drinks for health reasons. But a lot of businesses aren't really happy with that plan.

Kai Ryssdal: How you feel about New York City today might well hinge on whether you're a soda-drinker or not. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a new idea to make New Yorkers healthier. Broadly speaking, it goes like this: No more Big Gulp soft drinks. New Yorkers being an outspoken bunch, we asked a couple of them what they think about that today.

Steve Cage: I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing.

Daisy Rivera: You don't need to have no super-sized drink. Thirty-two ounce drink is ridiculous.

Julie Smith: You just go next door to the drugstore and get your soda before you go into the movie theater.

Rivera: I think you have to target a lot of sweet drinks, not just soda.

Alice Smith: Businesses will be more upset than people because they make so much money off that.

That was Steve Cage, Daisy Rivera, and Julie and Alice Smith in New York City today. Heidi Moore is our New York bureau chief. She is on the Marketplace soda desk this afternoon. Hey Heidi.

Heidi Moore: Hey Kai.

Ryssdal: All right. So listen, what exactly does the mayor want to do here? It's not just Big Gulps, right?

Moore: Right. Exactly. So he wants to prevent any New Yorker from buying any sugary drink that's bigger than 16 ounces. So that's soda, sweetened tea, coffee, energy drinks. But not if they're low calorie. So diet soda is OK, fruit juice, milkshakes, anything alcoholic. It's OK if you buy it in a convenience or grocery store. So obviously it's very controversial. This is New York. This is America, right? So the ability to mainline sugary drinks is like a human right. And so a lot of businesses aren't really happy about this because it's also an economic issue. They make a lot of their money off these cheap sodas.

Ryssdal: Right. It's delis, fast food places, movie theaters, all of that stuff. Right?

Moore: Right. Exactly. And movie theaters especially. Their system is to buy concentrate and they add water to it. The markup is something like 85 percent. It costs them nothing to add more water and they can charge us a lot more. So just as a patron I'm constantly locked into a battle with movie theaters because I ask for a "small" soda and I get this giant sloshy vat of Coke that's bigger than my head. So I stopped by a movie theater today to talk to some people. You can tell it's a sensitive subject: I got kicked out. But the thing is, New Yorkers appreciate value. I talked to Orli Santo, she's an artist. Just before she was getting ready to see a movie, she had skipped to the grocery store to get more soda. This is what she told me:

Orli Santo: I didn't buy a soda downstairs when I was thirsty, and I waited because I know I'm going to get like a bottle here, like a two-liter bottle in one cup. Which is refillable.

Right. And so the movie theater gives her a giant, refillable cup and what's more -- Bloomberg gives her another reason to complain and New Yorkers love to complain. So at least we can thank him for giving us some fodder for the next few weeks.

Ryssdal: Yeah, says the native New Yorker. Let me ask you about New York City politics. The way things are set up, there's no doubt that this is actually going to happen, right? Or is there some doubt.

Moore: Yeah, no, I think it's probably going to happen. Bloomberg has been really successful with his other bans on trans fats and things like that. I mean, he's definitely our dietician in chief and this should happen by next March. So you can hoarde your soda before then.

Ryssdal: Should you so choose. Heidi Moore in New York City for us. Thanks Heidi.

Moore: Thank you, Kai.

Ryssdal: See ya.

About the author

Heidi N. Moore is The Guardian's U.S. finance and economics editor. She was formerly the New York bureau chief and Wall Street correspondent for Marketplace.

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