Bloomberg’s Beverage Ban–Welcome To The Nanny State

Bloomberg photo courtesy of Center for American Progress

As the summer season gets underway, many restaurants, convenience stores and sports arenas are promoting cheap drink specials to draw in hot and thirsty customers. New Yorkers–enjoy   it while you can. Mayor Mike Bloomberg started summer off with a bang in the Big Apple, proposing a sweeping ban on sugary beverages that could take effect next spring. This measure, described by many as “unprecedented”, would prohibit the sale of beverages larger than 16 ounces that contain more than 25 calories per 8 ounce serving; for reference, an 8 ounce serving of Coca Cola contains 90 calories. Targeting delis, fast-food restaurants, food carts on sidewalks in the city and throughout central park, sports arenas and movie theaters, the ban would apply to any outlet regulated by the Health Department. Outlawed drinks would include sodas, sports and energy drinks, some fruit drinks, and pre-sweetened ice teas. Drinks exempt from the measure include diet sodas, fruit drinks containing a minimum of 70% fruit juice, milkshakes and coffee drinks with a minimum dairy content of 50%, and alcoholic beverages.   Most beverages sold in supermarkets and convenience stores would be exempted as well (their drinks are regulated as groceries). Fines for non-compliance would start at $200 per failed inspection.

Though the proposal has stirred up many citizens of New York, this is not the first time Mayor Bloomberg has courted controversy. A billionaire and former Wall Street tycoon, Bloomberg   was a lifelong Democrat before switching to the GOP in order to run for Mayor of New York City, and then switching again to Independent in 2008 as he ran for a third term. This was particularly noteworthy not only because it marked the second time in a decade Bloomberg changed his political affiliation, but also because a special resolution had to be passed to allow Bloomberg a third mayoral term; a resolution which has since been eliminated.

Long a champion of health-related issues, Bloomberg previously led a movement to ban smoking in restaurants and parks across NYC, argued for prohibition of artificial trans fat in restaurant food, and lobbied for nutritional information to be posted on restaurant menus next to food prices. Earning the nickname “Nanny Bloomberg”, the mayor also pushed for signs near subway lines showing how long people would have to walk to burn off the calories in a single sugary drink. As for soda specifically, Bloomberg supported a state tax on soda that died in the legislature, and tried to restrict the use of food stamps to buy soda, which was thrown out by federal regulators.

 

Photo courtesy of Shelly Munkberg

Why the attack on supersize sodas? In New York, more than half of adults are considered overweight or obese. The city’s health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley blames sweetened drinks for half of the increase in the city’s obesity rates over the past thirty years. Bloomberg himself said that the ban is part of an effort to “encourage people to live longer”.   He stated that many doubted the smoking ban in the beginning but that now they appreciate breathing fresh air while dining. Rest assured Bloomberg doesn’t hate all forms of sugary decadence. He recently declared June 1 to be Doughnut Day in New York, continuing an annual tradition launched 75 years ago honoring the women who used to serve that carb-filled creation to soldiers.

Public reaction has been mixed–some immediately embraced the proposed ban. Many frustrated New Yorkers don’t enjoy paying more for health insurance in order to cover people developing diabetes and other health problems frequently linked to high sugary-treat consumption. Yet other individuals say that they will give up their supersize drinks when Mayor Bloomberg pries them out of their cold, dead hands. One of the chief reasons some oppose the ban is that they find it inconsistent–why is a 32 ounce drink at McDonald’s forbidden, but not one at 7-11? Why are uber loaded coffee drinks excused based on their dairy content when they contain more sugar than many of the proposed banned drinks? As Coca-Cola Co. said today, “New Yorkers expect and deserve better than that. They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase.”

 

Photo courtesy of Ahmad Ziyad Maricar

(Yep, this latte looks healthy)

Although I eat my share of healthy fruits and vegetables and know that it’s best for all of us to do the same, I don’t think we can legislate good health. Personally, I oppose this ban; I actually opposed the smoking ban, too. I felt restaurants and bars should have the opportunity to decide for themselves and let the free market determine the outcome. One problem I have with this particular sugar-busting measure is where does it end? If the end game is eliminating obesity, why not ban double- and triple-cheeseburgers or supersize french fries? If health is what we’re after, why not prohibit the sale of multiple packs of cigarettes in a single purchase, or purchases of alcohol exceeding a certain volume? This is a slippery slope of epic proportions. Furthermore, what happened to individual liberty? If we’re asking the government to stay out of our sex lives, can’t we ask them to stay out of our eating habits as well? After all, poor choices in both areas can lead to higher costs being passed on to the taxpayers. Finally, as a woman, if it’s ‘my body, my choice’ when I want to take something out of my body, isn’t it also my choice what I put into my body?