Opinion | Soda should not be an issue for New York
Published: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 01:09
New York City’s politicians have a shameful history of interfering with their residents’ beverage choices.
When Theodore Roosevelt first accepted his position as police commissioner in 1895, he made it his mission to keep alcohol out of the hands of thirsty New Yorkers on Sundays, a day he believed called for a very sober rest.
Of course, the sheer size of New York and the lack of an honest police force kept Roosevelt from accomplishing his wishful Sunday prohibition.
Yet today, with New York City’s teeming population pushing over 8 million, Mayor Michael Bloomberg aims to pass a ban on sugary drinks over 16 ounces, legislation that seems nearly impossible as well as highly unethical.
Initially Bloomberg’s plan was to place a tax on unhealthy, overtly sugary drinks, but both state and federal authorities shot down this plan, a tad too reminiscent of King George III.
Bloomberg next attempted to outlaw these beverages from food stamp redemptions, a tactic met with similar negative reception. Now, he’s hoping his third time will be the charm, as he pushes forward with what is now deemed the “soda ban”.
In its entirety, the soda ban will outlaw the sale of sodas and sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in any location regulated by the city’s health department.
Therefore, all restaurants, movie theatres, concession stands, street carts, delis and fast food chains will now be subject to this rule, while grocery stores, newsstands, vending machines and convenience stores face no changes.
Diet drinks, fruit juices and alcohol are excluded from the mix, as well as 50 percent, milk-based beverages, allowing Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts to continue distributing Frappucinos and Coolattas, no matter the amount of sugary syrup sloshing around inside.
Mayor Bloomberg stands behind the ban.
“All we’re doing here is educating,” Bloomberg said to the New York Times, “It forces you to see the difference.”
Indeed, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reports that 22 percent of adult New Yorkers are obese, and although sugary drinks are not the sole cause of the overweight population, drinking multiple sodas every day can add up to several extra pounds.
Now, the weight-loss industry is racing to Bloomberg’s side and last week, David Burwick, President of the North American Weight Watchers program, stood beside the mayor, singing his praises.
“There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about obesity but very little action,” Burwick said to reporters.
Hey, I understand. The United States is gaining weight, quickly. We need to find a way to get through to Americans. The wide-eyed middle school health teacher screening Super Size Me in her classes simply isn’t imprinting the “diet and exercise” message on adolescents’ minds.
However, moving the theoretical soda “cookie jar” to a higher shelf only serves to reinforce our desire for more. After all, isn’t something even more desirable when we’re told it’s unattainable?
I give Bloomberg credit, though. If his plan is passed, we may be shocked into submission when we’re forced to reexamine our portion sizes.
Or maybe we’ll simply be so frustrated with this infantile treatment that we’ll buy multiple sugary drinks, a practice that the soda ban can’t prevent. Truth be told, even a ban won’t keep soda lovers from their drink of choice. Two 16-ounce cups of Coca-Cola are only slightly more inconvenient to carry away from a McDonald’s counter than one 32-ounce cup.
Plus, consumers have retailers and soda companies on their side. Food vendors can easily advertise two-for-one deals on sugary drinks and achieve the same ultimate effect as selling one giant soda.
What frightens me most, however, are the implications of this potential ban. If the government can regulate my soda serving size, what other food groups and dining aspects will their legislation infiltrate?
If we can implicate soda as an obesity cause, we must likewise shut down fast food chains, remove burgers from restaurant menus, empty grocery store ice cream coolers and douse all potato chips in gasoline.
Though Mayor Bloomberg has good intentions, in this country we are given the freedom to eat as we choose, and quite frankly if we wish to drink soda upon soda until we die, we have that privilege. Well, we had that privilege.
There is certainly merit to Bloomberg’s cause and I wholeheartedly concur that soda is a major cause of weight gain, but I simply can’t justify taking legal measures to control the population’s portion size. If the measure passes the Board of Health, a likely endeavor considering Bloomberg personally appointed all members, the implications could be large concerning our choices in commercial eateries. And if said measure does pass, it will be interesting to see whether New Yorkers show any signs of becoming healthier. Hey, maybe they’ll burn a few calories walking to the counter to get a refill.