After NY Ban on Big Sodas Proposed, What's Next?

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

June 1, 2012 -

In New York City -- which already bans smoking in public parks in the name of public health and bars artificial trans fats from food served in restaurants -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg now wants to stop sales of large sodas and other sugary drinks, in a bid to battle obesity. But in a country where fries have been equated with freedom, Bloomberg's proposal begs super-sized questions about government's role in shaping and restricting individual choices. What's next?

"The idea of the state stepping in and treating adults essentially as children and trying to protect them for their own good, as opposed to the good of others, that's been with us for as long as we've been around, as long as we've had governments," says Glen Whitman, an economist at California State University-Northridge who is a critic of paternalistic public policy.

The most famous example was Prohibition, which barred the manufacture and sale of alcohol from 1919 to 1933. But Whitman and others see a new wave of intervention, based on behavioral economics rather than religious moralism, and symbolized by moves like Bloomberg's. Allow it to continue, they say, and who knows where it could lead?

If government officials can limit the size of sodas, why couldn't they next decide to restrict portion sizes of food served in restaurants or the size of pre-made meals sold at supermarkets? Why wouldn't a government determined to curb obesity restrict sales of doughnuts or pastries or -- perish the thought, New Yorkers -- ban bagels with cream cheese?

If government is within its right to restrict behavior to protect health, then why wouldn't a mayor or other official ban risky sexual conduct or dangerous sports like skydiving? What's to stop a mayor from requiring people to wear a certain type of sunscreen or limit the amount of time they can spend on the beach, to protect them from skin cancer?

The reality is that many of the policies restricting individual choice in the name of public health seem almost benign, like curbs on fireworks sales or enforcement of motorcycle helmet laws. But such moves represent a "constant creep until all of a sudden it's extremely obvious," said Mattie Duppler of Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative anti-tax lobbying group that regularly spotlights examples of what it considers overreaching "Nanny State" public policy.

She points to moves by governments, like the city of Richmond, California, to impose taxes on sugary sodas and moves by states like Utah, which widened a ban on indoor smoking in public places to include electronic cigarettes that don't emit smoke.

"What we're seeing is government trying to put its fingers around the throat of anything that claims public health impetus," Duppler says.

Others have their doubts. Richard Thaler, co-author of "Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness," which argues for policies that encourage rather than mandate changes in consumer behavior, calls Bloomberg's soda proposal "inartful and probably ineffective and too heavy-handed for my taste."

But for him, most of the questions it raises are about practicality, rather than red flags.

Thaler, an economist at the University of Chicago, asks, would a Bloomberg curb on big drinks ban free refills? Would it ban special offers to buy one drink and get the second at half price?

Thaler, who says he is against government mandates or bans, argues that governments will get the most mileage from policies that nudge behavior, like placing fruit more prominently in school cafeterias. But he dismisses warnings that government efforts to improve public health risks sending the country down a slippery slope of more control and less individual choice.

"Any time people do something that people don't like, they predict it will lead to something awful," Thaler said. "I have not seen a big trend of governments becoming more intrusive."

Even Duppler has her doubts about what Bloomberg's soda proposal represents. "We'll see," she says. "There's some crazy ideas -- and sometimes they just take hold."

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  • by Anonymous on Jun 5, 2012 at 09:10 AM
    heh. The "reward card" you use at the grocery store documents everything you eat. How long you had it? Think about that...
  • by God bless America on Jun 1, 2012 at 07:20 PM
    I think Bloomers ought to pee in a cup every morning and be tested for drugs.
  • by Anonymous on Jun 1, 2012 at 03:36 PM
    If the fatties were intelligent enough to make their own decisions then they wouldn't be fat and we wouldn't need this kind of government restriction.
  • by liberdead on Jun 1, 2012 at 02:41 PM
    Ban soft drinks, force seat belts, force health insurance, bad companies bailed out, arrest adults for victimless "crimes". WE are no longer free....part of being free means we are free to succeed or make mistakes
  • by I miss the good old U.S.A. Location: united states of amerika on Jun 1, 2012 at 02:01 PM
    Miss the good old days when being an American meant you were free. You eat and drink pretty much waht you wanted . You were free to wear the clothes you wanted . Now governments and groups like PETA try to control every aspect of your life. Time for some change lets bring back running politicans out of town on the rails.Cover them in honey and feather them first.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jun 5, 2012 at 09:06 AM in reply to I miss the good old U.S.A.
      Not "pretty much" -- you could in fact eat, drink and inject ANYTHING you wanted during Teddy Roosevelt's administration, and before that to the dawn of time. And guess what? There were no drug cartels then...
  • by fed up on Jun 1, 2012 at 01:25 PM
    I am pleasantly surprised to read the comments, I fugured there would be tons of ppl on here begging to be ruled by bigger gov. by being "all for this". with these attitudes and getting rid of that chump (for lack of a better word) in the white house there may be hope for us after all.
  • by Georgia Boy Location: Cairo on Jun 1, 2012 at 12:17 PM
    Do you suppose politicians REALLY think they can prevent people from drinking the equivalent of a large soda by banning their sale? To prove a point I would buy three or four small ones instead and get the same or greater amount just to prove a point, whether I really wanted it or not. And a lot of other people will, too.
  • by Bernie Location: Valdosta,GA on Jun 1, 2012 at 11:44 AM
    WOW!! They had soda pop back in the 50's, 60', 70's and kids could drink all they wanted to. And very few kids were as FAT as they are today. Why? Kids then went outside to run and play for hours and hours. Today, kids set on their butts and watch TV, play games on the TV or, set and play on the computer. Fat kids become fat for a reason. Reason!! They set on their butts! It's not the fault of soda pop.
    • reply
      by common sense on Jun 1, 2012 at 12:25 PM in reply to Bernie
      That's because back then they used real sugar...nowadays its just High Fuctose Corn Syrup. The stuff is bad....
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jun 1, 2012 at 01:12 PM in reply to Bernie
  • by Anonymous on Jun 1, 2012 at 10:59 AM
    Whats next? WHATS NEXT? “This is my last election,” Obama is heard telling outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. “After my election, I have more flexibility.”
  • by Timothy Location: Miccosukee on Jun 1, 2012 at 10:50 AM
    This is socialism to the final stage. Who gave any government to say what we can eat and drink? Russia did this sort of thing and see where it got them! Obama and all his kind have to voted out, we are suppose to be a free nation and this is not freedom!
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jun 1, 2012 at 01:13 PM in reply to Timothy
      Heck, you don't even have to prove your a citizen to vote.
    • reply
      by Ura Nidiot on Jun 1, 2012 at 01:34 PM in reply to Timothy
      You obviously have no idea what you are writing about, which is typical of loud-mouthed "conservative" idiots. You have idea what socialism is - you just repeat the garbage spouted by the morons on Fox Noise and the lying idiots sitting on the Republican side of any legislative body. Yes, I paint with a broad brush, but the exceptions to this rule are so few and far between that they are insignificant.
      • reply
        by rob on Jun 1, 2012 at 03:09 PM in reply to Ura Nidiot
        Wow...even when the facts are right before your eyes, you still look at everything with Obamas kool aid glasses. You say a lot but absolutely nothing at the same time. Im sure those liars over at msnbs, cnn, et al have never lied...o wait, they have been liars time and time again...hows that thrill up your leg feeling now, clown?
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Jun 5, 2012 at 09:08 AM in reply to rob
          er, down his leg...
      • reply
        by A Conservative on Jun 1, 2012 at 03:47 PM in reply to Ura Nidiot
        Sticks and stone may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Typical of a liberal has to resort to name calling.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Jun 1, 2012 at 04:27 PM in reply to Ura Nidiot
        Ok, perhaps you can educate all of the "conservative" idiots. Tell us, in your own words, what socialism is. Don't repeat the garbage spouted by the morons on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, NPR, and the lying idiots sitting on the Democratic side of any legislative body, but straight from your all knowing mind to our monitors.
      • reply
        by God Bless America on Jun 1, 2012 at 07:18 PM in reply to Ura Nidiot
        You have no idea what socialism is about. Most likely you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth and need daddy to take care of you. It's sad that you give up freedoms that men and woman died for. You might be happier in Cuba.
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