Sweetened beverages, Kennedy added, are "an easy thing to eliminate from your diet."

Elizabeth Edsall Kromm, the county's policy director, called sugary drinks the "low-hanging fruit" in a larger effort to make Howard County a healthier place to live.

"Howard County has a long history of initiatives and policies that promote a culture of health, and this was seen as a piece of policy to build a model public health community, and a critical one at that," Kromm said.

"We're chipping away at this," she added. "[Obesity and its accompanying health risks are] a big problem to address, but slowly I think we're turning the corner where we're creating a culture of health where it's really easy to make healthy choices."


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Though Ulman's executive order was passed more than a year and a half ago, Kromm and county communications director David Nitkin said the implementation of its directives has been a gradual process.

In some cases, the county has had to wait until vendor contracts are up to impose the new rules, Nitkin said. For example, a request for proposals to stock vending machines in Howard-owned buildings just recently closed, and the chosen bidder will operate under the new rules starting in the fall.

"We've done what we can and [county vending machines are] as compliant as we could possibly make them. Later this year, they'll be fully compliant," Nitkin said.

Regarding enforcement, Nitkin said the county won't “proactively enforce” the standards. “It's similar to the ban on smoking in parks,” he said. “We've had tremendous voluntary compliance, because it's what people want.”

This year's Fourth of July event is the first major county event subject to the new restrictions.

Another popular county event, Wine in the Woods, might not be required to abide by them them at all.

Though a county-sponsored tent at the festival "followed the rules to the letter" by offering low-calorie, non-alcoholic beverage options, "Wine in the Woods continues to be a wine festival ... and that beverage needs to be treated differently," Nitkin said.

And vendors at the Howard County Fair do not have to comply because the fair and the fairgrounds are not operated by the county; but the rules would apply to items sold at the county's annual 50+ Expo, held in October.

County Council member Greg Fox, a Republican from western Howard, doesn't want to give them the chance. Fox has filed legislation that seeks to negate Ulman's executive order.

The bill would remove any "limits on the kinds of foods or beverages sold on county-owned property or during county-sponsored events."

Fox said he didn't think making lifestyle choices for citizens was the county's role.

"Adults can make adult decisions and the market can take care of healthier things," he said, pointing to an expanding variety of healthy and low-calorie snack options in today's stores.

A representative from the Maryland, Delaware, D.C. Beverage Association, Ellen Valentino, agreed with Fox's assessment.

"The Fourth of July is a day in which Marylanders celebrate their freedoms," she said. "The irony is not lost when a family can't purchase a soda or lemonade at a celebration. The good news is that the soft drink industry has many options to choose from."

Nitkin said the rules didn't restrict any freedoms: "People have freedom to bring the soft drink of their choice" to the event, he said.

"Bottom line," he added, "we think this has been a reasonable, thoughtful roll-out of a policy that's designed to boost access to healthy choices. We know it's going to be a process and we know that people who are involved in food and beverage sales are going to have to make changes to meet the standards, but we think over time, this is the direction that we want Howard County to head and we think it's the direction the world is heading."