First, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to ban welfare recipients from being able to use their food cards to buy sugary soda. The Department of Agriculture shot that down, but now, Time reports that Bloomberg is widening the soda dragnet this summer to include all city residents. He has proposed a “big soda” ban for the city that will include all types of sweetened beverages, from soda and tea to coffee, energy drinks and fruit drinks. If approved, Bloomberg’s proposal would hit restaurants, delis, sports arenas, movie theaters and food carts as early as March 2013. Grocery stores will not be affected.
‘Doing something’ about obesity
The New York City Health Department would be given the authority to fine vendors $200 for each instance when a sugary drink above 16 ounces in size is sold. The big soda ban would apply to both bottled and fountain drinks. Diet drinks, dairy drinks and alcoholic beverages will be exempt.
“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’” Bloomberg said. “New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something.”
Yes, Nanny Bloomberg
Critics of Bloomberg have dubbed him “Nanny Bloomberg,” and taken shots at him for enacting sweeping New York City bans on such things as public smoking in various places; trans fats; and a lack of nutritional data in restaurants. Sodium content in food is also reportedly on the mayor’s health crusade list. While Bloomberg and city health officials claim increased life expectancy is indicative of the success of their policies, food and beverage makers see zealotry at work because the government is not addressing the core issues of the obesity epidemic.
Witness the return fire from McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. Not surprisingly, they smell a nanny state mentality at work.
“New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this. They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase,” Coca-Cola wrote in a press release.
The soft-drink maker claimed that ingredients and calorie counts that it already posts should satisfy an health board’s disclosure requirements. A spokeswoman for McDonald’s USA sees Bloomberg’s proposed law as off-target at best.
“Public health issues cannot be effectively addressed through a narrowly focused and misguided ban,” said the McDonald’s representative. “This is a complex topic, and one that requires a more collaborative and comprehensive approach.”
Let them have taxes
Some health advocates believe that while banning soft drinks outright goes too far, placing a tax on sugary sodas and similar food products would be better. By earning alleged billions of dollars nationally each year through such taxes, the thinking is that this would help compensate for the increased health care costs brought on by obese consumers who suffer weight-related health problems.
Yet many think such taxation or bans to be unfair. Should any political official have the right to decide what legal substance a constituent can consume? It is exceedingly clear that excessive sugar compensation leads to obesity and related health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure and more. Greater availability and reasonable pricing of healthier alternatives to soda are things worth fighting for. In a free society, however, there is no place for Big Brother.