The City of Baltimore is concerned that you're ordering too many sodas for your children while out on the town. To remedy this problem, the city council is considering a bill that would take sodas off the kids menu, and fine restaurant operators who don't comply.
On Tuesday, the imaginatively titled "Healthy Beverages for Children's Meals" bill received unanimous approval from a Baltimore city council committee. The bill would require that any single-priced meal item "primarily intended for consumption by children" be offered only with water, milk, or 100 percent fruit juice. As an added precaution, the fruit juice could only be offered in 8 oz. servings.
"This bill would make the healthy choice the easy choice. It is a powerful tool to help our residents get healthy and stay healthy," said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen in a statement supporting the legislation.
The bill is the brainchild of advocacy group Sugar Free Kids Maryland, which has sponsored such hard-hitting reforms as establishing healthy snack quotas in various county-owned vending machines, and reducing the amount of non-educational screen time children have in childcare centers.
Violators of the healthy drinks legislation would receive an environmental citation, and would be subject to civil penalties laid out in Baltimore's health code.
The bill is part of a growing trend of petty restrictions and mandates intended to nudge diners into making healthier, environmentally friendly choices, and threatening to penalize the businesses that would make it too easy for them to do otherwise.
This includes straw-on-request laws—passed by several cities in California, and being actively considered by the state legislature—where restaurant patrons would have to ask for a straw before they could legally be given one. Something similar can be said for mandated calorie counts on menus for chain restaurants. Six states have passed this "nutritional transparency" measure so far, along with a number of cities and counties.
Proponents of this healthy drinks legislation are quick to stress that parents would still be able to order a soda for their children should they wish.
"This bill will help make the healthier choice—water, milk, or 100 percent juice—easier for parents to make, while protecting their freedom to choose what they prefer for their children," said Hillary Caron of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
What the bill doesn't protect is the freedom of businesses to offer goods and services in combinations their customers appreciate. As laws like these multiply, restaruants will have to spend more time servicing the government's preferences and not those of their patrons.