Health Department Launches Campaign Comparing Sugary Drinks to Cigarettes

The new campaign reminds New Yorkers that sugary drinks can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cavities and weight gain

About 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 3 public high school students drink at least one sugary drink daily; rates are higher in communities of color, especially among young Black and Latino children

Man holds a pack of cigarettes in one hand and a bottle of soda in the other

January 7, 2019 — The Health Department today announced the launch of a new media campaign that compares sugary drinks to cigarettes. The campaign emphasizes that both products are hazardous to your health and reminds New Yorkers not to give sugary drinks to children. Sugary drinks – including soda, sweetened iced tea, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit punch and other fruit-flavored drinks that have added sugar – can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cavities and weight gain. In New York City, sugary drink consumption overall declined among adults between 2007 and 2017. About 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 3 public high school students drink at least one sugary drink per day. Rates of consumption are much higher in communities of color, especially for the youngest New Yorkers (up to age 5) — the prevalence for Black children is 28 percent and Latino children is 31 percent, compared to 8 percent among Whites. The ads, in both English and Spanish, are running on TV and social media citywide. The campaign runs through early February.

“Like cigarettes, sugary drinks are bad for our health and can have long-term consequences,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “Through this campaign, we hope all New Yorkers will understand that, while sugary drinks may be sweet going down, their impact on our health is not. We urge all New Yorkers to consume fewer sugary drinks, and parents should not give sugary drinks to their children.”

“Sugary drinks are the largest source of added sugar in our diets - more than desserts, candy and other sweets combined. It’s extremely worrisome that one third of our youth have at least one sugary drink a day.” said Deputy Commissioner Dr. Sonia Angell. “This campaign is part of our ongoing efforts, from working with industry to reduce sugar in the food supply overall, to increasing no and low-sugar drink options available in schools; NYC is working hard to make healthy choices the easiest choices for all of us.”

“Sugary drinks are just as bad as smoking cigarettes,” said Assistant Speaker Felix W. Ortiz. “Both are harmful, resulting in poor health to those who take them. What more does it take to convince people that smoking can lead to cancer and that sugar calories bring on obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease? We need to do all we can to limit use of these products. This new city media campaign will help get the word out to avoid sugary drinks.”

“Obesity, diabetes and heart disease are epidemic, and sugary beverages are a major factor. This is a public health crisis, like tobacco, and increasing public awareness about the risks makes sense, just like for tobacco,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, Chair of the Assembly Health Committee.

“This new media campaign represents another effort by this administration to improve New Yorkers' health by highlighting the negative health impact of consuming sugary drinks," said State Senator Gustavo Rivera, Chair of the Senate Health Committee. "Just as we are working to reduce smoking among New Yorkers, we must continue conveying that making small lifestyle changes, such as limiting the consumption of sugary drinks, is critical if we want to be effective at combating obesity and diabetes in our City. I look forward to continue helping New Yorkers especially in low-income communities, make better choices to lead healthier lives."

“The soda industry aggressively promotes sweetened drinks through ads, sponsorships, ubiquitous placement, and steep pricing discounts,” said the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s vice president for nutrition Margo G. Wootan. “Though familiar and duplicitously marketed as fostering happiness, sugar-sweetened beverages in the amounts currently promoted and present throughout the food supply are unsafe. It’s terrific to see New York City taking another step to create an environment conducive to reduced consumption.”

“The American Heart Association applauds the efforts of our city to reduce consumption of added sugar in our diet,” stated Robin Vitale, Vice President, Health Strategies for the American Heart Association in New York City. “Added sugars contribute to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity-related cancers, and dental caries in people of all ages. The American Heart Association recommends that kids ages 12-18 should have less than 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily for a healthy heart. We look forward to this and future efforts to tackle this problem, especially in NYC’s most vulnerable populations.”

The de Blasio administration is committed to reducing sugary drink consumption and preventing chronic disease. Initiatives include:

  • The National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative (NSSRI), a partnership of nearly 100 local, city and state health departments, associations, and health organizations across the country. The initiative advocates to lower the amount of sugar in packaged food by 20 percent by 2025.
  • Eliminating sugary drinks from vending machines at NYC Health + Hospitals, the largest public health care system in the United States, which serves over one million New Yorkers annually.
  • Public education campaigns to raise awareness about the negative health effects of sugary-sweetened beverages and promote drinking water. Campaigns include “The Sour Side of Sweet” (2017), “Drink NYC Tap Water” (2016), “Skinny Kids” (2015) and “Sounds Healthy” (2014-15).
  • Updated child care center regulations around physical activity and nutrition, which increased the availability of drinking water and restricted high-calorie and high-fat beverages for children.
  • Working over the past two years with over 75 elementary schools in the Neighborhood Health Action Centers catchment areas to establish school-level wellness policies.
  • Funding to train more than 250 lifestyle coaches to deliver the National Diabetes Prevention Program in English and Spanish to community-based organizations.
  • An educational brochure (PDF) about the harms of sugary drinks and the aggressive marketing of these beverages. The brochure was distributed to community partners and the agency’s Health Action Centers.
  • Expanding the Shop Healthy NYC program to engage community residents, food retailers, food suppliers and distributors to increase access to healthy foods, including making low-calorie beverages more available. Shop Healthy NYC targets neighborhoods with high rates of obesity and limited access to nutritious foods.

Data on sugary drink consumption in New York City by age group:

  • Ages 0 to 5: In 2015, 22 percent of the youngest New Yorkers (ages 0 to 5) drank one or more sugary drink per day. The prevalence was three to four times higher among Black and Latino children than White children (Black: 28 percent; Latino: 31 percent; White: 8 percent).
  • Ages 6 to 12: In 2015, 36 percent of children (ages 6 to 12 years) drank at least one sugary drink per day. Again, Black and Latino children have higher prevalence than White children (Black: 48 percent; Latino: 41 percent; White: 20 percent).
  • High school students: In 2017, 35 percent of youth consumed one or more per day. Black and Latino public high school students had higher rates of sugary drink consumption than White or Asian youth (Black, 42 percent; Latino, 38 percent; White, 26 percent; Asian, 21 percent).
  • Adults: In 2017, nearly a quarter (23 percent) of adults drank at least one sugary drink per day. Black and Latino adults were more likely to report drinking one or more sugary drink per day than White (14 percent) or Asian/Pacific Islander adults (15 percent).

Know the risks:

  • Sugary drink consumption can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cavities and weight gain, which can lead to obesity. Overweight and obesity are linked to many chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and some cancers.
  • The largest single source of added sugar in the American diet comes from sugary drinks.
  • Sugary drinks include more than just soda. Sweetened iced teas, energy, sports and juice drinks can also contain large amounts of added sugar.
  • Just one 20-ounce bottle of soda can include over 70 grams of added sugar, which is more than 250 empty calories.
  • Sugary drinks are calorie dense and often contain few or no nutrients. They are a significant contributor of empty calories in children’s diets.

Tips to avoid sugary drinks:

  • Avoid sugary drinks and do not give them to children.
  • Check the Nutrition Facts label and avoid drinks with added sugars such as corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, honey or molasses.
  • Skip sports drinks and energy drinks.
  • Instead of reaching for a sugary drink:
    • Drink water or seltzer, and add fruits, vegetables or herbs for flavor.
    • Eat whole fruits instead of drinking juice.
    • Ask for coffee and tea with no sugar.
  • If you do have a sugary drink, choose a small size so you drink fewer empty calories.



MEDIA CONTACT: Stephanie Buhle, (347) 396-4177