Soda, Jerked
March 16, 2013

NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s ban of large sodas was in the news a lot this week, and discussed on lots of TV shows, etc. after a judge struck it down.  Bloomberg promised to appeal the decision, and I think he should, because there is solid ground for this law.

I’ve heard lots of pundits criticize it as a “Nanny State” law, and the crazier Facebook posts of course proclaiming it a threat to their soda drinking liberties, yadda yadda, but let’s look past the rhetoric and hype to reexamine this issue, because I think most people are coming at it from the wrong direction.

Most people seem to be comparing it to smoking ordinances, which prohibit smoking in certain areas, mostly indoor public spaces, although some towns go much further, prohibiting smoking just about everywhere except your home.  But I think this is a bad comparison, because that law exists not to stop you from smoking, but to keep you from exposing to cigarette smoke those people who do not choose to smoke (including children).  The soda ban isn’t using the same basis.  No one is exposed to your overconsumption of sugar except you.

And, in fact, the ban doesn’t keep you from drinking sodas, anywhere.  You can still drink your 16oz cup of soda and refill it until your kidneys explode if you so desire.

This is, in fact, not a law to prevent consumers from doing anything at ALL.  It’s a law that targets the salesperson, and enforces them to sell responsibly.

Think of a bartender.  If a bartender sees that you are inebriated, the law says she cannot continue to serve you alcohol.  It’s irresponsible on her part to do so.  The law does not exist to prevent you from drinking; it exists to prevent a business from taking advantage of your condition to line their pockets, while putting you at risk.  It stops a predatory practice from taking place, and as such, it is there to protect your rights, NOT curtail them.  In the same sense, the business owner selling sodas can sell a reasonable size drink all day, but selling a giant bucket of soda even though she knows it is a dangerously large amount of sugar to drink in one sitting is irresponsible.  She would be taking advantage of your inability to control yourself by doing so.  Now, with the ban in place, your rights are protected, and in fact, the onus of responsibility for yourself is placed back in your hands.  You can go back and refill that 16oz soda all you want.  When the doctor bill comes, you will have only yourself to blame.  Freedom.

Some might argue that the alcohol law exists to protect those you might harm in your inebriated condition, driving, etc.  But I would argue that the soda law does the same, just in a longer-term viewpoint.  If you end up hospitalized your family could be endangered, if you die your family could be endangered.  And heart attacks on the road home do happen too, that’s not out of the realm of possibility.  So even this is not a solid argument to strike down the soda ban.

I am hopeful that on appeal, the court will consider that business should sell their products responsibly, and not endanger their customers by selling a portion of product that is blatantly harmful to them.  Allowing companies to do whatever they want to get rich while putting all of our health at risk is one reason why our health costs are so high and our country is in so much economic trouble.  Uphold the soda ban, and maybe NYC will be a little healthier, then maybe other areas will follow your example. That’s worth fighting for, Mr. Mayor.