Should We Ban Big Drinks? The Los Angeles Times Wisely Weighs In

Should We Ban Big Drinks? The Los Angeles Times Wisely Weighs In June 5, 2012

A few days ago, I put up a post concerning the effort of New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg to ban the sale of sugary drinks over 16 ounces. In the days since his announcement, I’ve been watching the response. Mostly, it has been predictable. Those who lean toward big government applaud Bloomberg’s move, while those who prefer small government decry it. For the first group, the ends justify the means. For the second group, the means are an unacceptable denial of freedom.

Not to be left out, the Los Angeles Times jumped into the fray with an editorial. (Thanks, Bill Goff, for drawing this to my attention.) I was impressed with the wisdom of the Times piece. Here are a couple of excerpts, but I recommend that your read the whole column.

Almost everything government does restricts the freedom of the governed in some way. Spending programs have to be paid for with taxes that leave people less money to use as they see fit. Laws limit what people can do without risking fines, lawsuits or incarceration. People tend to accept these limits without complaint when there’s a clear connection to public safety and civil order, or a clear benefit from the spending that’s proportionate to the cost.

The support weakens when the connection to public safety isn’t so clear or the benefits are more abstract. For example, seat belt laws are widely supported: There’s no question that they save lives and reduce the severity of injuries. But when the federal government lowered the speed limit on all interstate highways to 55 miles per hour in 1974, numerous states rebelled, insisting that there was no public safety reason for such a low limit in rural areas. . . .

The mayor’s initiative also rests on a shaky scientific foundation. Researchers have found that people who regularly drink soda are more likely to be overweight, and that those who increase their soda intake have a greater chance of becoming obese and diabetic. But there’s little data to support the idea that a ban on large cups and bottles of sugary beverages would make a real difference in obesity, especially a ban as porous as the one Bloomberg has proposed.

With no precedents to show the effectiveness of Bloomberg’s approach, a better way to balance the competing interests of public health and personal choice would be to require more effective disclosure about the calories in soda and a more aggressive effort to educate the public about the associated risks and costs. There are nearly 400 calories in 32 ounces of Coca-Cola Classic, which is almost as much as aMcDonald’s quarter-pound hamburger. Raising awareness about calorie counts may also encourage restaurants to compete to offer the healthiest goods, not just the biggest portions. . . .

The larger and more difficult question for the public is where to draw the line between an appropriate government effort to improve public health and an inappropriate interference with individual autonomy. If the only consideration were reducing how much taxpayers had to spend on healthcare, then Bloomberg’s next logical step would be to require restaurants to serve vegetables with every food order, or to require every New Yorker to join a health club, or to ban ice cream.

Vegetables required? Well, okay. Join a health club. That’s fine. Ban ice cream? Never.

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  • The whole situation makes me laugh. 

  • markdroberts

     I don’t know whether to laugh or cry or both. We live in strange times.

  • Yes, we do. 

    I can’t find anything in Revelation about soda-cup sizes, though. You?

  • Evan

    What this demonstrates more than anything to me is the absolutely corrosive effect of Postmodernism, particularly on Jurisprudence. In essence, now that we are Postmodern, any term can be redefined by the speaker to fit the moment, since “everything is relative.” The problem becomes, then, writing any sort of coherent statute or stating any coherent policy when the very words being used are continually redefined.

    How do you explain a policy that can ban sugary drinks beyond a certain size that does not then require regulation of sugar in things you may not want to regulate? More to the point, how do you draft a statute that reasonably puts the public on notice about what is and what is not legal, with the possibility of fines and/or imprisonment? Under the reasoning that too many sugary drinks are bad for you, how do you prevent folks from simply buying more smaller ones? And if sugar in drinks can be regulated, why not sugar in every foodstuff? Should it be regulated by prescription or banned altogether if it is that much of a danger? And that is just the start. How do you draft a coherent statute when the standard can be continually redefined?

    Hello,  mandatory broccoli ice cream in the name of protecting the public from itself. Of course, “ice cream” is subject to redefinition under the rules of Postmodernism. So is “public health concern.”

    Lest I derail things completely, just let me whisper that Postmodernism is also working its magic on “free exercise of religion,” “marriage” and “the right to life.” Sugary drinks are simply a microcosm of what is happening everywhere.

    The crushing irony of all of this is that the part of the political spectrum that is pushing this ban is the same group that is chanting “Keep your laws off my body!” in a different context. But with Postmodernism, “I can do what I want with my body” includes the disposition of another person’s body as well, but not the ingestion of too much sugar in a single drink.

  • And…what about people like me, who can pass by sugary temptations all day long, but surrender to the siren song of fatty, salty treats? Are potato chips next? 

    In my academic discipline, a famous and very public debate between two giants of the discipline, Melford Spiro and Clifford Geertz, raged on throughout my time as a student. And I did my undergraduate work in the department that Spiro founded.

    They weren’t the only ones, of course.

  • Evan

    Regarding your question about potato chips, I quote the wisdom of that Noted Philosopher, Bugs Bunny, in “The Rabbit of Seville”:

    “Yesssss, you’re next. You’rrrrrrre so next!”

  • I was afraid of that. 

    Guacamole,  too? Onion dip? I’m doomed.

  • I always prefer trust, education, and empowerment to control, rules, and legalism. Maybe I’m naive.

  • Idealistic, I’d say, rather than naive. 

    I’m thankful for it, too.