The Benefit of Bloomberg's Big Beverage Ban

The mayor's soda scheme won't make anyone thinner, but it sets a paternalistic precedent.

Everyone expected that New York City's Board of Health, all 11 members of which were appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would rubber-stamp his proposed 16-ounce cap on servings of sugar-sweetened soft drinks. But at a meeting last week, several board members zeroed in on the most obvious problem with Bloomberg's plan to treat adults like children: It does not go far enough.

Given Bloomberg's avowed goal of reducing New Yorkers' waistlines by reducing their calorie intake, his soda scheme is indeed absurdly inadequate, as he inadvertently emphasizes every time he minimizes the extent to which it will restrict consumer freedom. Once we accept the premise that our weight is the government's business, we open the door to meddling far more intrusive and oppressive than Bloomberg's pint-sized pop prescription, which is bound to fail as an anti-obesity measure but could still succeed as a paternalistic precedent.

Although the Board of Health unanimously agreed to hold a hearing on the soft drink regulations next month, followed by a final vote in September, members' comments highlighted the timidity of the mayor's supposedly courageous plan. Joel Forman questioned the exception for milk-based beverages such as coffee drinks and chocolate shakes, which "have monstrous amounts of calories"—more per ounce than soda, in fact, which is also true of the fruit juices that would be exempt from Bloomberg's serving ceiling.

Another board member, Michael Phillips, noted that the carve-out for drinks sold by convenience stores, supermarkets, and vending machines (which are not regulated by the city's health department), means 7-Eleven's Big Gulp—the very epitome of the effervescent excess decried by Bloomberg—will remain available. There also was murmuring about the continued legality of free refills, which will allow people to drink as much soda as they want, provided they do it 16 ounces at a time.

And why focus exclusively on beverages, when man does not get fat by soda alone? If the city is going to ban extra-large drinks in movie theaters, what about extra-large popcorn? "The popcorn isn't a whole lot better from a nutritional point of view than the soda is," board member Bruce Vladeck observed, "and may have even more calories." Phillips likewise questioned the mayor's liquidity preference. "We're really looking at restricting portion size," he said, "so the argument could be…what about the size of a hamburger or the jumbo fries, and all that kind of stuff?"

Bloomberg himself undermines the case for his rule by insisting that it will not constrain people's choices in any meaningful way. "It's a little less convenient to have to carry two 16-ounce drinks to your seat in the movie theater rather than one 32-ounce [drink]," he conceded when he unveiled the plan last month, but "I don't think you can make the case that we're taking things away."

If so, what's the point? The plan cannot possibly work unless the burdens it imposes lead people to consume less soda than they otherwise would. Even then, there is no assurance that they won't make up the difference in unregulated areas of their diets.

So why would anyone, even a fervent fat fighter, support Bloomberg's big beverage ban?  The endorsements touted by the city range from the highly improbable ("curtailing the sale of supersize sugary drinks can have a huge impact on the health of our children") to the barely coherent ("Sugar is the tobacco of this decade!...Energy Up! Wooooo!"). But the most common theme is that interfering with people's drink orders, even if it has no measurable impact on its own, represents "a step in the right direction."

Which direction is that, exactly? "They are establishing the role of government in fighting obesity," explains Yale obesity expert Kelly Brownell, adding that "we'll have to do many such things in order to reverse the epidemic." If that prospect fills you with dread rather than hope, now is the time to speak up, before healthier-than-thou busybodies like Bloomberg get serious.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • mybarber||

    Repeat after me,there is no slippery slope

  • Copernicus||

    The slope is being lubed with soda.

  • Trespassers W||

    I guess that's true if you tilt your head just right.

    "...we are simply accelerating across this perfectly flat plane with no apparent means of propulsion."

  • mybarber||

    Repeat after me,there is no slippery slope

  • Being Waterboarded||

    ...there is no slippery slope. There is no slippery slope.

    Did it come true yet?

  • anon||

    It isn't a slippery slope. It's a fucking cliff.

  • Killazontherun||

    Is this the part where we have to clap so that Tinkerbell may live? I hate audience participation bits.

  • DantoRang||

    I dunno man, I think that dude comes off as being a tad bit full of himself lol.

    www.Anon-Surfer.tk

  • Being Waterboarded||

    The bot is correct. He does.

  • Fluffy||

    Who has the more punchable face?

    Bloomberg, or Ezra Klein?

  • Ted S.||

    Can't we just punch them both?

  • anon||

    God saw fit to give me two fists... so I can punch multiple faces at a time.

  • ||

    There's only one correct answer to that question: yes.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Can we get them to pie each other?

  • SugarFree||

    Hit one with the other.

  • Killazontherun||

    Give them both cameras as gifts and then introduce them to Alec Baldwin.

  • Killazontherun||

    It seems inevitable that Baldwin will run into Steve Smith or Warty one day. That is going to be a good day.

  • Abdul||

    RAPE IS FOR CLOSERS!

  • SugarFree||

    You have pleased me greatly this day, Abdul.

  • Matrix||

    I'd rather they just ban nanny statist asshats from public office.

  • anon||

    HAH! Good luck with that one.

    There will never -ever- be an endless supply of dipshits that are willing to take your freedom away "for your own good."

  • anon||

    err, there will always be an endless supply. Jesus christ I can't think this morning.

  • Killazontherun||

    You know why I'm up early enough to post instead of at the last minute with barely enough time to shower? Okay, you don't. Four Guinea hens appeared beneath my window and sqawked an hour ago. They escaped from my sister's farm (organo-commie) a half mile down the road. It's like she trained them to do that. Must of pissed off last night when I told her her new Nook was crap.

  • sarcasmic||

    You gonna shoot 'em? I would.

  • Killazontherun||

    It must be the Maoist in her, but my sister is a better aim than me. It's okay, my wife's big cat thinks they look delicious.

  • Killazontherun||

    Big kitty, certainly wasn't from anything I have been feeding it!

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Four Guinea hens appeared beneath my window and sqawked an hour ago.

    I didn't know you knew the cast of VH1's Mob Wives!

    *waa waa trumpet*

  • Killazontherun||

    You get the bu-bump and shake on the snare for that one.

  • ||

    How about just banning unelected Boards of Health?

    In this godforsaken "city" in western MA, the BoH has just announced that, as of August, cigarettes will no longer be sold in any store with a pharmacy. Clever wording, because it covers Walmart and five of our six supermarkets as well as plain old drug stores. It's for the children. It's being claimed that this will make it harder for anyone under 18 to get cigarettes.

    I see their point, since big chain stores, whose cashiers card anyone who looks under 30 are totally where underage kids go to get their smokes. Seriously? I usually get my cigarettes when I'm in the grocery store, just like a lot of housewives and old people, and really no one else. So they're inconveniencing adult smokers with a measure that can't possibly accomplish its stated goal.

    The local paper, big shock, loves the idea. I almost wrote them a letter asking why they aren't banning tobacco sales in convenience stores, where kids do buy cigarettes, and while we're at it, throw in gas stations and liquor stores, since they sell flammable liquids known to be unsafe around lit cigarettes. I stopped myself, though, because it would just put new ideas in their heads.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I almost wrote them a letter asking why they aren't banning tobacco sales in convenience stores, where kids do buy cigarettes

    Because the reaction of the convenience store owners would be like this, and I say this only half-jokingly.

  • Bee Tagger||

    It would be fun to follow any of these people around and soon as they have anything I deem unhealthy in their hands, smack it to the ground.

  • anon||

    I think the only real question left is "Why the fuck does anyone still live in NYC?"

  • General Butt Naked||

    The artisanal mayonnaise.

  • anon||

    Is this some clever pseudonym for bukkake?

  • General Butt Naked||

    Sure.

  • ||

    Don't forget the landfill honey

  • anon||

    Orange juice should be subject to this ban too; it has more calories than most soft drinks with just as much sugar. Fuck, it's -terrible- compared to diet soda.

    Ban OJ Nanny Bloomberg. Let me see you rationalize that shit.

  • Bee Tagger||

    Yeah, one potential workaround to prevent more crap like this may be to elect nannies with religious devotion to different diets. Mix this mainstream traditional view with some paleos and some raw foodies and some eat your bloodtypies and some mercola.comies and so on. They'll either ban everything or nothing and since "ban everything" seems to be the track we're on anyway, it might be worth shooting for the "ban nothing."

  • anon||

    it might be worth shooting for the "ban nothing."

    Nah, people accepted the premise that it's OK for government to tell you what you can do with your own fucking body a -long- time ago. It's enough to make me throw up my hands and say "Fuck it."

    Then again, I'm just in a foul mood today.

  • Bee Tagger||

    Right, but what if we caused these people with slavish devotion to their very specific ideas of what a healthy diet is to fight among themselves? Assume they'll be nanny statists but since their preferred behaviors will never overlap and vice versa, no behavior will be banned or required. Take what I assume happens on every iVillage (is that still a thing?) thread about food and move it to the government. Nutritional gridlock.

  • db||

    Awesome. If we actually made them fight it out we might discover the truly best diet. Fight to the death, I mean.

  • anon||

    Dare I say ... Thunderdome?

  • LTC John||

    Two dietary diktats enter - only one leaves?

  • sarcasmic||

    The obvious solution is a law limiting the maximum calories per serving, and maximum servings per container.

    So before putting anything on the shelf or adding anything to the menu, it must first go through an approval process with the city government.

    Any item or ingredient for which you can not produce a permit will be confiscated by the police, and all dogs on the premises will be shot.

  • anon||

    You helped me find a solution for unemployment! FOOD MONITORS!

    They sit at your local 7-11/dunkin donuts/restaurant and approve your menu choice before you eat. We can employ millions while monitoring the health of our citizenry!

    The sad thing is, if this is actually implemented, I will be in jail for murdering the first fucker that tries to control my food choice.

  • sarcasmic||

    In the UK the government actually send people out to go into homes and instruct people on how to use leftovers in their refrigerators.

    I shit you not. Look it up.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    They sit at your local 7-11/dunkin donuts...

    Cops???

  • Rich||

    The obvious solution is

    Taxing excess (or insufficient) body weight.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Hell, the obvious solution is to find Buttinski Bloomberg abd chase him east until his hat floats.

    *sigh*

    The real pity of it is that there are entirely too many people who ACTUALLY BELIEVE that what you proposed makes some kind of sense.

  • Nando||

    The role of government is clear in this. Do not allow large corporations into defrauding people out of their own health.

  • NotSure||

    Nice try using the fraud line argument. Problem is that when coca cola advertises its drink they don't sell it as a health drink or weight loss tonic.

    The only fraudulent thing here is you selling your left wing nanny ban as some kind of government protection of property rights.

  • sarcasmic||

    When coca cola advertises its drink they show healthy people enjoying it, which is obviously a fraud since one sip turns you into an obese sugar addict.

  • Hyperion||

    The real truth is, that innocent looking can of coke is just a gateway drink to the harder stuff, like monster sugary fountain drinks.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Idiots like Nando will use any opening to bring anti-capitalism into a conversation.

  • Peter L||

    "when coca cola advertises its drink they don't sell it as a health drink or weight loss tonic"

    When was the last time you saw somebody in a Coke commercial who was not a healthy, thin, fit person? Clearly they are saying that by drinking coke, you can be thin and beautiful too!

  • sarcasmic||

    Obesity epidemic?

    I wasn't aware that it was communicable.

    How does it spread, exactly? Sit in a chair that was occupied by a fat person and your butt swells?

  • anon||

    How does it spread, exactly?

    CORPORASHUNZ are forcing me to drink delicious Pepsi. Which is why I'm so fat with a BMI of 25. Can't you see how they're killing our children by mouth raping us?!?

    Oh wait.

  • sarcasmic||

    So true. When CORE-POUR-RAY-SHUNS offer a product, weak minded people have no choice but to purchase them.

    choice = coercion

  • LTC John||

    Exactly - and only those who can utilize their psionic ability of "Tower of Iron Will" can resist them (AKA Bloomberg the Wise).

  • Chupacabra||

    The only argument I had with MNG was about this. He made a comment about how advertising takes away our free will because it tricks people into buying things.

    That guy was a fucking moron.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Christ, this almost reminds me of a conversation I had with a woman who was saying that McDonalds was guilty of modifying their food to give it an "addictive taste". Yeah, she was arguing that McDonalds was somehow bad for making their food taste good.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Except that it doesn't taste good.

  • BigT||

    Is anyone else here hoping Bloomie chokes on a ham sandwich?

  • anon||

    If by "ham sandwich" you mean "a glock," then no.

  • sarcasmic||

    Yes?

  • anon||

    Plausible deniability sarcasmic.

  • sarcasmic||

    No?

  • LTC John||

    Being a fan of irony, I'd hope it was a liter of Mountain Dew Code Red.

  • Hyperion||

    I would rather that he just come up missing one day. And then 2 months later they find him lying by a bench in central park, 60 lbs heavier than when he went missing, with an empty box of donuts and an empty 40 oz. soda cup on the ground beside him.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    We need a President like William Taft again.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    They say that Taft was a bad mutha-

    Shut your mouth!!!

    I was just talkin' about Taft...

  • DJF||

    And then there is the side benefit for NYC government that people will then buy two cups instead of one which will cost more money and so the city gets more tax out of the deal

  • sarcasmic||

    What about the landfills?

  • ||

    They ship all their garbage out of state. What do they care?

  • DJF||

    NYC has been considering a tax on garbage, don’t know if they have done it yet but if they do they can then tax both cups at both ends, when you buy them and when you throw them away.

  • R C Dean||

    Two taxes, one cup?

  • Rich||

    Like Fresh Kills?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Has anybody checked to see if Bloomberg has money invested in a company that makes disposable cups?

  • ||

    FYI - Didn't take the Massholes long to realize what a swell idea this is.

  • John||

    As much free will as you can have in a society is a good idea," Davis said Tuesday. "… But with a public health issue, you look at those things that are dangerous for people, that need government regulation.

    I love the smell of newspeak in the morning. Freedom is slavery!!

  • ||

    And tofu is delicious!

  • gaoxiaen||

    Soylent Green is too fattening.

  • Mo' $parky||

    There's a reason it's called the People's Republic of Cambridge. Look for them to soon change their opinion to one-up NYC instead of just copying.

  • John||

    They will limit the size of soda. But I bet you can still get a 400 calorie pint of craft beer. What a bunch of elitist fuckstains.

  • KDN||

    But only adults can buy beer, so it's ok.

    Why do you hate children?

  • Gadianton||

    They're loud, expensive, and messy.

  • DrAwkward||

    They're nasty, brutish and short.

  • ||

    "They are establishing the role of government in fighting obesity," explains Yale obesity expert Kelly Brownell, adding that "we'll have to do many such things in order to reverse the epidemic."

    Too late for Kelly, alas

  • John||

    Can we look at maybe sending the entire faculty of Harvard and Yale to say Iran or some other hostile country. Let them destroy our enemies from within for a change.

  • Rich||

    Too late for Kelly, alas

    But he can help force others to learn from his mistakes.

    Sorta like Barack and drugs.

  • John||

    It is okay for the right people to be fat.

  • Rich||

    It's a badge of his expertise.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    ifh, the reason he is an "expert in obesity" is because of all the field research he has done. It would be better if he lead by example instead of by gov power.

  • Rich||

    Jinx!

  • John||

    That really is the worst part about modern elites. They don't even pretend to live what they preach. The worst public scolds of the past at least believed what they were saying. No one ever caught William Jennings Bryant in a gold speculating scheme or Cotton Mather in a wife swapping club or Carrie Nation with a wine collection. But not these fuckers. The scolds of the past were merely mistaken. These people are just evil.

  • Coach Panto||

    The Tyrant has no sense of hypocrisy.

    The Tyrant has a narcissistic belief that his intentions and his authority are ends in themselves. Physics, truth, logic, value, morality, and consequences are subordinate to the primacy and imperative of the Power of the Tyrant.

    1984 Cliffs Notes:

    How many lights do you see?

    * * * *

    If Big Brother says there are five, you had better agree. If you disagree, you will not be killed right away. You will be tortured into admitting there are five, then killed.

    Why do you think every 5th sentence out of Obama's mouth is a provable lie?

    It's conditioning. It's a test of our courage to challenge the State.

    Are they evil? I'm not qualified on that one. Are their ideas malevolent and destructive of trade, liberty, and the will to live? Yes. Killing the leaders becasue we think theyre evil won't work. That will only make them stronger.

    Killing their ideas is the challenge.

  • ||

    So, he ate so that we might live? He's Fat Jesus?

  • LTC John||

    Now that is pretty damned funny - which is exactly what I need in the morning.

  • Mo' $parky||

    obesity expert Kelly Brownell

    There's a reason he's an expert on obesity.

  • Mo' $parky||

    Bah, screw you both.

  • Hyperion||

    We all know where this is going. End all private sales of food. Government rationed food only.

    Let the hunger games begin! Fence off the Bronx and the first games can take place there.

    Or we reverse it and create the Nanny Games. We round up all the nannies and force them into a death match against each other in our elaborately designed arena, while the rest of us consume mass quantities of whatever the fuck we feel like as we watch the games. I am accepting ideas now. Polish up your monocles and put on your thinking caps. First we need all the candidates for the first global Nanny games.

  • Russell||

    Time to reinstall New Amsterdam's too long disused ducking seat , and dust off the Common Scold statutes.

  • Russell||

    Woe betide Bloomberg should President Romney embrace Massachusetts's 1672 statute outlawing :

    "Exorbitancy of the tongue in railing and scolding"

    The good and great Governor Bellingham wrote it into law after his sister Ann, a notorious Common Scold, was hanged as a witch for good measure.

  • ||

    of Bloomberg's Big http://www.maillotfr.com/maill.....-3_21.html Beverage Ban
    The mayor's soda scheme won't make anyone thinner,

  • ||

    of Bloomberg's Big http://www.maillotfr.com/maill.....-3_21.html Beverage Ban
    The mayor's soda scheme won't make anyone thinner,

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