Niagara Gazette

March 16, 2013

Soft drink law just falls flat

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s heart was in the right place on the sugary-beverage ban he proposed, but his head wasn’t.

The way the would-be law was constructed, it was so unfair to so many interests that it stood no chance of being enacted.

Bloomberg, an outspoken advocate for healthy living, was moved by statistics that show obesity to be a leading and growing American health problem. It’s aggravating to the mayor and others because it is a problem that, in a sizable percentage of cases, can be corrected by a simple concept: will power.

That’s not to say that if everyone laid off giant sodas there would be no obesity. Many overweight people had the stage set for their dimensions when their genes were activated. Others have health conditions over which they have no control.

But Bloomberg is on to something. Sugary drinks are the undoing of too many potentially healthy people — and are significant contributors to health costs for all of us, as a result.

So in the interests of overweight individuals and the rest of the paying public, Bloomberg declared that containers of over 16 ounces of non-diet soft drinks would be banned in New York City eateries.

The trouble was, he said nothing about exotic creamy, sugary coffee drinks, and he said nothing about stores that sold 32-ouncers. According to the State Supreme Court, that made the law arbitrary and, therefore, unenforceable.

The mayor, in typical Bloomberg fashion, reacted by saying the fight was not over. He insisted he will appeal and win.

But he will have to make some changes, whether he likes it or not. Government fiat regarding big containers of soda is not the same as limiting alcohol or tobacco sales.

For one thing, while health-care costs are unquestionably the responsibility of every citizen, alcohol and tobacco consumption have an even more direct effect on innocent bystanders. Drunk drivers kill indiscriminately, and so does second-hand smoke. You don’t have to be drinking or smoking to suffer the consequences of those activities. Big soft drinks aren’t going to hurt anyone but the over-user.

And what about the only occasional buyer of the large soft drinks? Can’t thirsty customers have a rare spree with 24 ounces of Coke if they feel like it?

The law was bound to be controversial because it smacks of government overstepping considerably. But Bloomberg has demonstrated amply, during his time in office, that controversy is no deterrent to him when it comes to doing what he believes is right for his constituents. You have to admire his spunk, even if you abhor some of his measures.

He is going to have a hard time satisfying the courts on this one, though. There’s a lot more to taking a big cup of Pepsi out of the hand of a parched patron than meets the eye. Or the law.

-- The Plattsburgh Press-Republican