Tuesday, June 05, 2012

No More Super Sizing Soda in NYC if Mayor Bloomberg Has His Way

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a city regulation that would ban the sale of soda and other sugar-laden drinks in sizes of more than 16 ounces in New York restaurants, food carts, and movie theaters. The proposal would not affect the sale of milk shakes and would not regulate the sizes of soft drinks that could be sold in grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, and other stores that are not considered "restaurants."

The proposal, which Bloomberg says is intended to fight the city's epidemic of obesity, will be submitted to the Board of Health, which must approve it for it to become law.

The Rest of the Story

Think this proposal would mark the end of Slurpies and Big Gulps from Seven Eleven and similar monster soda and sugar drinks from other convenience stores?

The answer is no. And that goes to show the pointlessness of the proposal. The regulation is so limited that it will have no effect on the public's health. Why ban the sale of monster sodas only in restaurants? What good is a restaurant monster soda ban if people can still walk into a Seven Eleven and purchase a 64-ounce Double Big Gulp? How often do people go out to the movies such that banning the sale of monster sodas in theaters is going to combat the city's obesity epidemic? What sense is there to ban monster sodas in delis if in those same restaurants, a person can order a humongous milk shake?

The over-riding question is this: What justification is there for a proposal that will interfere so substantially with the autonomy of businesses to decide what products to sell when there is no evidence that the proposal will do anything to improve the public's health? Especially when those products, in and of themselves, are not harmful to health.

Beyond the pointlessness of the proposal, there is a second major issue that it raises. If the government is justified in regulating the types of products which can be sold when those products - in and of themselves - are not hazardous to health - then where does one draw the line in terms of what products the government should ban?

If banning super-size sodas is the right thing to do, then certainly the city would also want to ban super size burgers and fries. A super size Big Mac value meal has 1170 calories. What possible justification is there for Bloomberg to allow such huge portion sizes of burgers and fries to be sold? After all, the city is facing an obesity epidemic. If he really means what he says - that drastic action is needed to address this obesity which is killing thousand of New Yorkers, then why is he standing by silently why New Yorkers are killing themselves on super size burgers and fries, not to mention the milk shakes that they use to wash it all down?

Moreover, once you establish the principle that the government should regulate whether products that are not inherently harmful can be sold in order to protect the public's health, then government action to regulate the sale of a host of products is now not only justified, but it becomes incumbent upon the Board of Health to regulate these products. If it is an appropriate action for the Board of Health to ban the sale of 17-ounce and larger sodas in restaurants, food carts, and theaters, then:
  • How can the Board of Health not ban the sale of chemical pesticides, when non-harmful organic pesticides are available?
  • How can the Board of Health not ban the sale of sunscreens with less than 45 SPF, since the use of lower SPF sunscreen has been shown to be a cause of a substantial number of sunburns, which puts people at risk for skin cancer?
  • How can the Board of Health not ban the sale of insect repellant containing more than 30% DEET? DEET is a known toxin that impairs central nervous system activity and has significant human health effects.
Actually, the Board of Health would be justified in regulating the percentage of DEET that can be used because DEET is an inherently harmful toxin.

This demonstrates how Bloomberg's proposed regulation is so problematic. It immediately puts the Board of Health in the position of failing to appropriately protect the public's health. Because once you justify the regulation of the sale of non-inherently hazardous products, how can you justify not regulating all such products?

The most troublesome aspect of the proposal, however, is its hypocrisy. While Bloomberg was busy banning super size sodas, he was also busy declaring last Friday "New York City Donut Day." His proclamation established a day on which donuts were given out free throughout the city. Ironically, the donut give-away came just a day after Bloomberg's announcement that he wanted to ban super size sodas.

The rest of the story is that while Mayor Bloomberg is not OK with New Yorkers consuming large sodas, he is perfectly fine with promoting the consumption of donuts.That's just the kind of hypocrisy that undermines the integrity of public health.

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