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Mayor Finds "Big Gulp" Protest Hard To Swallow

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City Council members and dozens of advocates who oppose Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed sugar drink ban took their grievances to City Hall Monday evening for a so-called Million Big Gulp March, but the mayor stressed that the measure helps battle rising health care costs resulting from obesity. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.

The group NYC Liberty, City Council members and dozens of demonstrators descended on City Hall on Monday evening to protest the ban that would prohibit the sale of sugary drinks 16 ounces or larger at most city restaurants, stadiums and movie theaters.

Protesters said they had no affiliation with the beverage industry and that they were rallying for what they called a personal liberty.

"As Americans in a free society, we need to have choices, and it's up to people to take personal responsibility for themselves, not for the nanny state to dictate," said Danny Panzella of the Staten Island Libertarian Party.

Last month, the city's Board Of Health took the first step toward banning sugary drinks over 16 ounces. The prohibition would apply to stadiums, movie theaters restaurants and some stores.

"I don't believe that it's Mayor Bloomberg's or the government's responsibility to tell us if we can have salt on the table, what we drink and what we eat," said a demonstrator.

For his part, Mayor Michael Bloomberg claims that the city must do what it can to combat rising health care costs due to obesity. He says roughly 34 percent of New Yorkers are overweight and 22 percent are obese.

The mayor saw no humor in the the rally being dubbed the Million Big Gulp March.

"In New York City alone, we're going to spend $4 billion of your money to treat obesity-related diseases. It's $100 billion-plus across the country and skyrocketing," said the mayor. "We just have to do something about it, and if somebody wants to have a march, I suppose it's funny but it is so tragic what is happening I have to say, the humor kind of escapes me."

Organizers of the rally said the mayor was being hypocritical.

"Hey, you go to the National Donut Day, you go and emcee eating 68 consecutive hot dogs and endorse this kind of stuff, and then you come over and tell us 20 ounces is too big?" said rally organizer Zach Huff.

Some elected officials argued that the ban, which does not include convenience or grocery stores, is too selective.

"You could have a 7-Eleven next to a bodega, the bodega is banned, the 7-11 is not. There is a question as to whether or not Starbucks is permitted to sell sugary sodas and if it's a supermarket, they are exempt as well. So the arbitrariness of this really bothers me," said Brooklyn City Councilwoman Letitia James.

There is a public hearing on the ban later this month. A final vote could take place in September and that would put the ban into effect by next March.

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