In Defense of the Soda Ban

Cambridge city Mayor, Henrietta Davis, has come out publicly endorsing New York’s ban on large sodas and proposed a similar ban in Cambridge. While many politicians throw around the terms “health crisis” or “obesity epidemic,” only a few brave souls like Mayor Bloomberg and Mayor Davis have had the courage to treat it like the emergency it really is. It is high time some politicians put their money where their mouths are. Better yet—put your money where your mouths shouldn’t be.

The ban on soda in New York, likely to win over the board of health, will take effect in March. Violators will face a steep $200 fine, and many in the media have balked at such a high penalty. However, the media neglects the fact that large sodas may cost as much as 30 percent more than small sodas. Therefore, the fine will obviously fall on those with higher incomes. The bourgeoisie buyers of Big Gulps can surely afford the fine.

It takes courage to lobby for a bill that deprives people of their dietary freedom. Mayor Davis knows that democracy is not a popularity contest; it’s about being right and being right regardless of what the public thinks. As the old saying goes, the quickest way to an electorate’s heart is through its stomach. But this electorate has a surplus of stomach and obesity-related heart disease.

Many who have come out in opposition to the ban in Cambridge and New York have whined over the government’s intervention in the free market. However, the ban is certainly not unprecedented. Similar bans have been passed in New York before. In 1908, New York implemented a smoking ban. The only reason it was thrown out a couple years later was due to some legal minutiae; only women were arrested for smoking in public.

Moreover, even on the federal level, there has been applicable precedent. In 1919, a ban on beverages was so important it was ratified into the constitution of the United States. You can see the eighteenth amendment remains a part of our constitution to this day.

Governor Chris Christie, a representative of both the conservative and obese perspectives, decried the soda ban as “Daddy government.” It comes as no surprise that when Governor Christie weighs in, the result is shock and disappointment. If he had as many brains as he had chins, he would realize what an ad hoc and immature argument he is making. These criticisms of “Daddy government” and “paternalism” are particularly hypocritical considering how the governor, a self-proclaimed social conservative, constantly extols the importance of the father’s role in society. Christie laments the impact of absentee Dads but condemns the presence of “Daddy government.” Try as he might, Christie simply cannot have his cake and eat it too.

The proposed ban is more than accommodating. It is so generous as to extend an exemption to any drink with fewer than 25 calories per 8 ounces. However, counter-intuitively, this exemption is counterproductive. A recent study proves that people who drink diet sodas are more likely to have obesity-related health problems. Moreover, in a shocking discovery, rates of obesity among customers of the popular dietary shake, Slim Fast, were dramatically higher than those of the general populace. Backed by such empirical evidence, one can only hope that the Cambridge ban will include these unhealthy alternatives as well.

Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on large soda merely keeps his population from gaining more weight. It does not, however, affect weight loss. The law may stem the tide of rising obesity for the time being but it does not do anything to decrease the rate. However, there is a way this same bill could do just that: decrease the size of soda containers even further. If sodas were served in one ounce servings (instead of the 16 ounce maximum) then to consume the same 16 ounces of soda, the customer would have to get up to buy soda 16 times. Repeated purchases such as these would surely burn more calories and decrease the currently unacceptable levels of obesity.

Sarah R. Siskind ’14 is a government concentrator in Adams House.

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