A while back New York City banned the sale of all sugary soft drinks larger than 16 fluid ounces (about 0.5 liters) on the grounds of health. It was supposed to keep city residents from getting fat, or getting diabetes.
At the time I protested loudly, saying that the government had no right to police people’s food intake, regardless of the motivation. For if you do that, where do you stop? Do you ban double cheeseburgers? What about doughnuts: should you not be allowed to buy more than two? After all, there are lots of food items far worse for you than a 20-ounce soda.
And I remember being given pushback by some readers who thought it was just fine for the government to do this. (My post on this in May of 2012 got 163 comments!) After all, it may improve public health (I’m not sure there’s evidence for that vis-à-vis big sodas), but if we’re going the health route we should also ban alcohol, which causes far more deaths than do sodas. Or, at least sell alcohol only in bottles no larger than the tiny ones you get on airplanes, which used to be the law in Utah restaurants.
Well, I’m happy to see that the courts agree with me. According to the New York Times, an appeals court just overruled the soda ban put into effect under Mayor Bloomberg:
In a 20-page opinion, Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. of the New York State Court of Appeals wrote that the city’s Board of Health “exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority” in enacting the proposal, which was championed by former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Judge Pigott wrote that the complexity of the proposal and its reach into the everyday lives of millions meant that the City Council ought to address it instead.
The ruling was a major victory for the American soft-drink industry, which had fought the plan. Two lower courts had already ruled against the city, saying it overreached in trying to prohibit the sale of sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces.
The court’s 4-to-2 decision could also have larger implications for city agencies like the Board of Health in their ability to generate high-profile initiatives that can withstand legal challenges.
. . . in the majority opinion, Judge Pigott drew a sharp distinction between the soda proposal and past initiatives of the board, such as banning trans fats in restaurants. He wrote that those earlier policies had a more direct link to the health of the public and represented “minimal interference with the personal autonomy” of New Yorkers.
Of course the soft-drink industry lobbied hard against the ban, for they profit from big sodas. But just because I agree with those capitalists (I drink only diet sodas) doesn’t mean that the ban was appropriate. And, in fact, there were a number of loopholes:
Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal, which polls showed was opposed by a majority of New Yorkers, set off a global debate over soda consumption. It also prompted panic among powerful beverage companies, who feared that their products could be widely branded as a threat to public health.
Questions about the workability of the plan were raised from the start. Because of jurisdictional quirks, not all businesses involved with selling food and beverages would have been affected. The rules would have covered places like fast-food franchises, delis and movie theaters, but convenience stores and grocery markets would have been exempt. And while the limits would have applied to a broad menu of popular drinks, there were many exceptions, including milkshakes, fruit juices and alcoholic beverages.
Look, if you’re going to ban sodas larger than 12 ounces, you should also ban the sale of more than 5 cigarettes at a time, or ban them altogether. Or get rid of six-packs of beer, so that you have to buy them no more than two cans at a time. Once you decide to police people’s diets, it doesn’t stop. Even if it does have a marginal increase in health, it also erodes our freedoms. Why not ban red meat altogether? That’s not only bad for health, but bad for Earth.
The argument against that is that people simply like burgers and beer, and it’s a strain on society to ban them. Well, when I have my occasional burger and fries, I like a very large soda* to wash them down with. Who is New York to tell me that I can’t have it?
*(I used to drink non-diet sodas.)
From Get Fuzzy (h/t: reader Mark)