Monday, June 4, 2012

Mayor's Fizz Fuss Falls Flat

It's such a goofy idea, I thought news of it would have died out by now.

After all, what's the shelf-life for soda fizz?

Apparently, almost as long as the shelf life for the artificial sweeteners found in most sodas these days.  The same sodas against which New York's indefatigable mayor has decided to wage an unlikely war.  News of his proposed ban of 16-ounce servings of soft drinks bubbled up the Internet last week, and shows little sign of losing its carbonation anytime soon.

At least for the savvy Michael Bloomberg, it's an unlikely war because he should know better:  banning a certain size of beverage - whether it's beer or Pepsi - won't reduce consumption of that beverage.  People who want it will just buy more of it.  For years in the Big Apple, stores and restaurants have been loathe to offer free refills of anything, which likely is what gives Bloomberg the faintest glimmer of hope that banning a certain size could work.  However, New York retailers are always looking for the next gimmick, and a ban on one drink size might force them to adopt a customer-friendly stance by instituting free refill policies.  Which would instantly negate Bloomberg's anti-soda initiative.  With free refills, the city's soda junkies could guzzle as much of the stuff as they want with impunity.  And retailers might end up selling more high-profit-margin (and high-fat) food for those sodas to wash down.

Even if the city's soda sellers never adopted free refill policies, how does the Mayor's proposal to ban 16-ounce servings serve any useful purpose?  Sure, he's brought attention to the nation's bad eating habits.  But does this do anything to encourage people to reconsider what they're eating and drinking?  Celebrities and experts with a greater nutrition pedigree than the Big Apple's bureaucratic billionaire have tried and, so far, mostly failed.

Sure, companies that insure the health of New Yorkers could benefit in the long run, if better eating habits reduce their weight, which in turn reduces their chances for cancers and heart disease, which in turn could reduce healthcare costs.

(Yeah - I'll wait 'till you stop chuckling over that one.  "Reducing healthcare costs!"  Oh, that's a real killer, ain't it?!)

And sure, equally-onerous bans on smoking and trans fats have already been successfully implemented in New York City.  But those bans were far broader, with a more even application, since no variations of the undesired activity, such as different ways of smoking or using trans fats, were exempt.

If you listen closely, even America's mighty soda industry will admit that their products are designed to be used in moderation.  Sure, their advertising may be misleading sometimes, but whose isn't when it comes to junk food?

Still, are 16-ounce sodas the real villain here?

We all know the true problem lies with individual consumers, and the choices they make regarding their lifestyles and eating habits.  To the extent the Bloomberg realizes that forcing residents in his passionately narcissistic city to adopt healthier dietary choices would be a lost cause, then at least he's smart enough - and yes, even caring enough - to look for other, more "creative" ways to get his neighbors, voters, and fellow malcontents to eat better.

Only this ain't one of 'em.

Perhaps because sodas are so ubiquitous, and still socially acceptable, the sensation Bloomberg has caused with his proposed ban on 16-ounce servings of them resonates with people across the country in a way that smoking and trans fats bans haven't.  And we should know by now that just because a majority of people agree on something doesn't mean they're correct.  So just because most people - both inside and outside New York - seem to oppose Bloomberg's soda ban doesn't mean they're right.

Yes, we can oppose it because it seems draconian and too invasive a move for the government.  We can oppose it because it won't really work.  But we can't oppose it because soft drinks are healthy and good for us.  And that's really the rub:  to the extent that governments think they need to pick up the slack caused by personal irresponsibility, the general public has only itself to blame for ideas like Bloomberg's.  Even if this is only a public relations stunt, it has gotten people talking.  Only we're talking about government over-reach, not about how bad soda can be for us.

By the way, if you want to blame the soda companies for exploiting the addictive properties of their sugary drinks, then OK - but do you realize that we'll have to ban all sodas if the addiction argument is the crux of your soda-bashing?  After all, it's the addiction argument that played a major role in turning the populist tide against cigarettes, but smoking can be harmful even to people who breathe smokers' smoke. 

Why do we need to ban something that is only harmful to people who abuse it?  Personally, I like a swig of Coca-Cola or ginger ale when I've got a stomach ache - sodas aren't always bad for you.  Then, too, my Mom's dad in coastal Maine used to remove the salty rust on the chrome if his automobiles with straight-up Coca-Cola.

The poor eating habits of New Yorkers specifically and Americans in general will only change when we make a concerted effort to consume things like soft drinks in moderation.  Maybe even strict moderation.

To the extent that Bloomberg's irrational plan may scare us into a posture of being more responsible for what - and how - we eat, that will be it's value in our national dialog on the subject.

Otherwise, its quality is about as good as an opened can of Big Red left on a picnic table in broad sunshine.

Hot, flat sugar water.  Everything a soda isn't supposed to taste like.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think the ban on certain soda sizes will affect the amount of soda that the majority of people drink, however I do believe that there will be a shift in the method of consumption of soda. Besides soda is not good for the body's natural flow, the acid in soda causes acne, helps the body store excess fat, and causes improper balance to energy levels. Check out this site and you will find more helpful tips!


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