Gov. Cuomo is sweet on Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to ban mega-sized sugary drinks.
Cuomo yesterday effectively endorsed Bloomberg’s push to limit the selling of sweetened drinks larger than 16 ounces, likely dooming any chances of overriding the proposal at the state level.
“Obesity is a major problem that we desperately need to address,” Cuomo said on former Gov. David Paterson’s WOR-AM radio show. “So I don’t see that this can do any harm.”
Are bacon-cheeseburgers next? As a practical matter, no. Sodas are an easy target because there is nothing, nothing, nutritionally redeeming about them. But might there come a day when the New York City Department of Health mandates that burgers be limited to, say, four ounces? Indeed there might. And why not? Eight- and ten-ounce burgers are sick things.
We have a health crisis in this country. A country with half of its adults living in a condition of obesity is a sick country, quite literally, spending probably not billions but trillions on the associated illnesses and maladies. Under such conditions, the state has every right to take action on behalf of the common good. We once had an epidemic of traffic deaths. We didn’t ban driving. But we came up with a device that is a minor inconvenience at most. And so seatbelts became mandatory, and now the epidemic has receded. A few people still foolishly oppose seatbelts. But most of us accept them and understand that whatever little dollop of our freedom is taken away as we latch up is more than countervailed by the practical upside.
One day, if the country comes to its senses, we’ll reverse the obesity trend and, just as we now chuckle at the prevalence of smoking on Mad Men, we’ll say, “Can you believe people used to peddle this treacle in 64-ounce doses?” We will not only have done something about obesity. We’ll have won an important victory over Libertarianism Gone Wild, a far bigger threat to society than even Sunkist Orange.
The proposed ban may not be the best way of dealing with the obesity problem, or the role that sugared drinks play in it. It may not work at all — actually, given the rather large loopholes it will contain, it may backfire. But at some point someone had to step in and do something, and for a number of reasons, that someone basically had to be Mike Bloomberg…
The man deserves the reputation for incorrigible nannyism that he’s gotten during his time in office. His administration has been marked by one crusade after another: against smoking, against salt, against trans fats, against soda. But those crusades have, for the most part—the one against salt is the notable exception—been remarkably successful. The trans-fat ban was a model for the nation. The anti-smoking campaign, which made cigarettes more expensive, more inconvenient, and more stigmatized, has been incredibly successful—it may be the most successful anti-drug program in history…
The federal government would never be able to do anything like this right now, not in this political climate, and not with this Congress. The state legislature tried and failed. But Bloomberg can. Worst-case scenario, it’s a miserable failure, it tarnishes his legacy, and his successor overturns it on day one in office. But the best-case scenario isn’t that difficult to achieve: the ban doesn’t have to work that well, or really at all, to be a success. Even if the ban does nothing but shift the discussion about what the government can do to protect the health of its citizens in his favor, Nanny Bloomberg will have won, and we’ll be better off for it.
Here’s what’s really going to happen…
The price of a 16 oz cup will increase to somewhere between the current 16 oz price and the gigantic size (whatever that may be at a given restaurant).
Some people who used to drink what Bloomberg considers to be an appropriate amount of soda will simply stop buying soda when the price goes up; some will consume exactly the same amount of soda as before, but pay more for that choice; and some will drink more soda, because they feel they’ve paid for it and need to derive more value from their free refill purchase. If you view increased soda consumption as “bad,” then this is a net “bad” for the population of people Bloomberg believes consume soda in appropriate amounts. It does the opposite for this group by encouraging some percentage of those making “healthy” choices to consume more soda.
Now for the population that Bloomberg is trying to affect: Those who drink massive quantities of soda will still be able to do so via free refills by making more trips to the soda fountain. It will just cost them less to do so.
In essence, what this ban will do is cause those who make “healthy” soda choices subsidize those who make “unhealthy” soda choices.
[T]his ban isn’t targeted at those responsible for government healthcare spending. It will be in place at every restaurant, deli, sporting event, and food cart. This will affect every person interested in purchasing soda who resides in — or for that matter, even visits — New York City, whether the city pays for their healthcare or not. What does a tourist from Canada or Virginia have to do with New York’s obesity costs? This law will only heighten animosity toward government’s vital role in promoting healthier lifestyle habits…
His administration was able to force eateries to put calorie counts on menus. While the measure was approved — it hasn’t proven effective. Preliminary research has been inconclusive and unable to show that consumers are making healthier choices as a result; and even worse, according to one study, consumers purchased 106 more calories when they were listed on menus…
Furthermore, Mr. Bloomberg hasn’t produced any research showing the majority of soda consumed is done so outside the home, where the ban actually is in place. There’s a reason for that — he can’t. More than half of one’s soda consumption occurs at home, according to the CDC. Soda consumed at home is more likely to be purchased from grocery stores and bodegas (corner stores), which will be exempt from the soda ban. So how much of an impact can this soda ban really have on an individual’s daily caloric intake or overall health? Not much.
But there’s an even darker side to bans. They have a socio-economic impact, by which I mean, some people are more affected by bans than others. Bans widen the divide between the rich, who can find a way around them, and the poor, who perhaps cannot. And while Bloomberg’s tactics are obviously part of what people dub a “nanny state” ideology, in which he’s telling us what to do, he’s telling some people what to do more than others. Rich people, among whom one is billionaire Bloomberg himself, are not going to be impacted by a soda ban the same way poor New Yorkers are — if the wealthy prefer huge bottles of soda, they’ll have no trouble continuing to find them. And the problem that Bloomberg’s trying to “fix” — obesity — is, according to the stats and research, a “poor” problem, not a rich one. This makes Bloomberg’s move seem ever the more paternalistic. A class of people whom he’s judged unable to make the proper decision for themselves is now being told what to do, by someone who knows better…
But none of these bans really serve to get to the point, anyway. If we’re to talk of equity, we should also ask why healthy, particularly organic, fresh food costs more than packaged, processed food, why lean turkey or chicken is priced higher than the bad, fatty cuts, or why in some cases the cost of milk is greater than the cost of soda. It seems that a better way to promote health to all would by making it easier for everyone to get healthy, good food—not by “outlawing” the bad stuff, or soda, which beverage industry folks say isn’t the cause of the problem in the first place, citing reports that say sugared drink consumption has decreased while our obesity issues keep increasing.
If you tax one sugared product, you make the targeted products less attractive — but you also make any number of other sugared products relatively more attractive. If theaters are limited on the size drinks they can sell, they can offer free refills, and throw in “free” candy bars with their large-soda purchases, or offer a buy-one-get-one-free deal. With narrowly targeted bans, people can still get their sugar fixes from a multitude of other venues and sources that are not subject to bans (grocery and convenience stores are not covered). Twinkies, anyone?…
Second, in the case of tobacco bans and taxes, the bans and taxes could be narrowly targeted and were, and are, endured solely by the offending parties—smokers. Soda (and other fat) bans and taxes will certainly hit the supposed offending parties, but they will also be paid by people who work hard–and suffer real costs—to remain trim. They can also have unintended and unanticipated consequences. Ironically, as research has shown, higher cigarette taxes have contributed to the country’s weight gain by causing reformed smokers and never-smokers to eat more than they otherwise would have.
Instead of narrowly focused or blanket bans and taxes on identified categories of sugared and fatty foods, a far more direct and effective policy course would simply be to hold heavy people fully responsible for the costs of their excess poundage. These weight-related costs show up in lost productivity and higher medical costs and in their impositions on others’ space in the tight quarters of planes and buses. Having heavy people bear the full costs of their excess poundage (for example, through lower wages and higher insurance premiums and air fares) will surely be far more freedom preserving and effective in curbing obesity than soda bans and taxes.
“Hey look, I gave up pop for Lent three years ago,” [Rep. Paul] Ryan said. “I haven’t had one since. but that’s up to you, do what you want with your life. We believe in economic freedom, we believe in individual freedom, and so we don’t want a nanny state. We don’t want a government micromanaging your life.
“And we don’t want a government micromanaging our financial services sector, our energy sector, our healthcare sector because what you end up with that is, you end up with crony capitalism, you end up with corporate welfare. You end up with having big business and big government joined in a common cause to erect barriers to entry against entrepreneurs, against businesses, against families and that doesn’t work. If you want to see how that movie ends, look at Europe and we don’t want to go down that path.”
Pointing to New Yorkers’ increased life expectancy, [Bloomberg] said, “Just before you die, remember you got three extra years.”