Claims of tyranny. Calls for more freedom. And a banner that included a Statue of Liberty-like figure triumphantly holding aloft a large soda cup, complete with straw.
The American soft-drink industry arrived at City Hall on Monday to protest the Bloomberg administration’s proposed restrictions on sales of big sugary drinks, and while appeals to populism and patriotism were rampant, the topic of obesity received only an occasional mention.
The industry, which has a reputation for deep pockets and aggressive lobbying, has been collecting petitions and running radio advertisements against the plan, which is to be discussed on Tuesday at a public hearing by the city’s Board of Health. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. at the headquarters of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Long Island City, Queens. A vote is expected in September.
At Monday’s rally, industry officials were joined by City Council members and union workers, several of whom held placards that declared, “I can make my beverage choice myself.” One libertarian activist held a handmade sign written in the Coca-Cola font. “My body, my choice,” it read.
Robert Sunshine, a New York-based lobbyist for the movie theater industry, said the average soda cup served at cinemas in the city was about 48 ounces, more than twice the size of a standard 20-ounce plastic bottle.
“We don’t want 16 ounces!” Mr. Sunshine said to loud cheers. “Who wants to go to a movie theater and have small glasses?”
In a brief interview afterward, Mr. Sunshine warned that a reduction in soda sales could lead to higher ticket prices for moviegoers. And he reinforced the rally’s patriotic tone, saying, “It’s not American to tell me I can’t eat a big hot dog, or that I can’t drink a big soda.”
The Board of Health, whose members are appointed by the mayor, is expected to support the proposal, which would limit the size of sweetened drinks to 16 ounces in restaurants, movie theaters and many convenience stores.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has said the restrictions would help reduce the city’s runaway obesity rates and prevent diseases like diabetes and hypertension, which the Health Department has linked to consumption of high-calorie sweetened drinks.
Asked at a news conference on Monday if he was surprised by the opposition to the plan, he responded sharply, describing the protests as “negligible.”
“I don’t see it; you certainly don’t get it on the streets,” Mr. Bloomberg said,
“Nobody’s going to stop this,” he added, although he later softened that remark. “They’ll consider the issues, and my hope would be that they would pass this,” he said of Board of Health members.
Several Council members who spoke at the rally said Mr. Bloomberg’s plan would hurt small businesses in their districts and place a disproportionate financial burden on the working class.
“This plan will cost more for those families who are struggling each and every day under the weight of poverty,” said Councilwoman Letitia James of Brooklyn, who has emerged as a leading voice against the mayor’s plan.
City health surveys have shown a relatively high rate of adult obesity in some of the neighborhoods that Ms. James represents. She said she “tossed and turned” about whether to support the limit, but concluded the city would be better off renovating parks and playgrounds, and emphasizing physical education in schools, rather than targeting a specific product.
“The worst thing about being in elected office is that I go to too many funerals of people who die prematurely,” Ms. James said. “I know how to correct it, and this is not the way.”
There was no discussion at the rally about the financial concerns of global beverage companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, which are helping to finance the opposition effort in New York. The industry has been fending off taxes and restrictions on its products around the nation, where public health officials increasingly warn about health problems related to soft drinks.
The official line on Monday, however, was that restrictions on soda would be the start of a slippery slope for consumers. Andrew Moesel, a spokesman for the New York Restaurant Association, warned about what might be restricted next.
“They could take away our hot dogs,” Mr. Moesel said. “They could take away our steaks, our calzones!”
Kate Taylor contributed reporting.