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Opinion

Opinion

Soft-drink law goes too far

June 7, 2012

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There are things the law cannot do.

And if that seems a self-evident observation, well, you may want to think again in light of last week’s headlines out of New York City: It seems the mayor wants to ban the Big Gulp.

Specifically, Michael Bloomberg has announced his intention to pass a law restricting restaurants, movie theaters and sports arenas from selling sugary sodas in sizes larger than 16 fluid ounces. The ban, which would not affect supermarket sales, diet sodas or alcoholic beverages, represents NYC’s attempt to get a handle on the growing American problem of, well, growing Americans.

As the mayor told the New York Times, “Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible.’ New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something.”

He rejected the notion that the New York ban would limit consumer choice, noting that anyone who fears she will die of thirst without 32 ounces of Fanta can simply buy two sodas. The mayor was also dismissive of the argument that the ban encroaches upon people’s rights. As he put it on the “Today” show, “That is not exactly taking away your freedoms. It is not something the Founding Fathers fought for.”

To stand at any busy intersection and watch America go waddling by, drinking a latte and munching a doughnut en route to McDonald’s, is to understand the urgency of the problem that motivates the mayor. To read the statistics on diabetes, heart attacks, high blood pressure and other obesity-related illnesses is to have that understanding forcefully driven home. And yes, sugary sodas sold in containers that could double as mop buckets are certainly a contributor to that state of affairs. One cannot doubt the mayor’s good intentions.

His good sense, however, is another matter.

He proposes to solve the problem with a law only Big Brother could love. It represents nothing less than the usurpation of personal prerogatives, the enforced substitution of government standards for individual ones, the triumph of the Nanny State.

This is not, as Bloomberg has suggested, analogous to a smoking ban. Smoker’s exhaust is an annoyance and a health hazard to nonsmokers. The state has a compelling interest in clearing it from public spaces.

Nor is this, as others have suggested, analogous to San Francisco’s ban on Happy Meals. Children are vulnerable and not yet mature. The state has a compelling interest in protecting them from exploitation.

But what Bloomberg proposes has little to do with either of those things. He wishes to ban adults from behaviors that do not imperil anyone else’s health.

His attempt to use the law to that end suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of what the law can do. More, it reflects the belief that human progress can be legislated, that human beings can be perfected if only we write laws enough.

But laws do not perfect. They restrict. And restriction is something of which free people should always be skeptical. What’s next? A restriction on the number of doughnuts you can buy? A ration of candy and pizza?

No. You want to get adults to modify their behavior? Educate them. Persuade them. That worked with smoking, which fell from ubiquity to historic lows.

But Bloomberg prefers the heavy hammer of law. The Founders, he says, did not fight for 32-ounce sodas. But the Ninth and Tenth amendments suggest the Founders did intend to protect people’s right to make their own decisions, to live their lives free of unwarranted government interference, to be left the heck alone. The Founders understood something that sometimes escapes would-be reformers.

Namely, that there are things the law cannot do. And shouldn’t even try.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.

Comments

Gotland 1 year, 10 months ago

It’ s a catch 22. The only parties that would fund a study like this would be industries under attack (Tobacco, Soda, Fast Food, ect.) If the research finds that using their products actually lead to a faster cheaper death, publishing this information would be a public relations nightmare. This is actually what happened in the Czech Republic. The Tobacco companies published their study and came off looking very bad. Saying essentially our cancer causing product are saving the state millions of dollars.

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Gotland 1 year, 10 months ago

I doubt any study like that has ever been produced. Who would fund it? Also the data could easily be manipulated to support preconceived conclusions. However, if the government uses cost as the pretext to control the citizens than a independent study should be in order. Not that cost justifies our lost liberties, as some argue.

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jafs 1 year, 10 months ago

Still waiting for a citation, one from this country.

If smoking killed everybody that quickly, you might be right. But many smokers can live longer than that - cigarette companies want them to buy more cigarettes, you know.

Last time I checked, 62 was the earliest one could get SS benefits (reduced ones) - how many folks have made it to 102-112 that you know of?

Obesity is similar - you don't just die quickly from being overweight - you probably get diabetes, and a host of other issues, all of which cost money to diagnose and treat.

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Gotland 1 year, 10 months ago

It should be intuitive to intelligent person. However, there are studies out there. The Czech Republic did one that showed smokers cost the state less over their life time. What costs less, someone who milks SS for 50-60 years or an obese smoker who has a massive heart attack at 55 while at work? Not to mention, lung cancer is relatively quick and cheap compared to long term care.

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Gotland 1 year, 10 months ago

The obese and smokers actually cost society less over the long run. The cost for those that retire at 62 and die of old age is very expensive.

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bevy 1 year, 10 months ago

It doesn't help matters that drink sizes have exploded. At Casey's, the "small" drink is 32 oz! I also think the introduction of HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) into EVERYTHING we buy, has had a huge impact on obesity. Some studies suggest consuming it makes you want to eat more. I am trying to move my family towards a healthier diet with whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, and little to no fast food. It's a tough change to make - and I already know how to cook. The fact is there are generations of families (both on and off welfare) where nobody knows how to cook. They have lived the "heat N eat" lifestyle for so long, they don't know any differently. Education could help, but personal motivation is required.

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BornAgainAmerican 1 year, 10 months ago

Today's Lesson for the proglodyte followers of BHO: The SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)/Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is pleased to be distributing the greatest amount of free meals and food stamps ever. Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S.Department of the Interior, asks us to "Please Do Not Feed The Animals." They say this is because the animals may grow dependent on handouts and not learn to take care of themselves. Thus endeth today's lesson.

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Flap Doodle 1 year, 10 months ago

Does the New Party endorse this sort of government interference in our lives?

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beatrice 1 year, 10 months ago

I do not agree with this proposal. However, I do find the politicizing of health practices quite odd. Maybe Obama will win reelection because most conservatives will die from heart failure before then.

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Liberty275 1 year, 10 months ago

It depends on the voice at the drive through. It has to be a girl asking and she must have a pretty voice. 99% of the time it's always the 16 ounce size because it's hard to for anyone to sound pretty at 7am. I'd say I have a predilection for girls with pretty voices.

Oh, also if it's the pretty blond that comes and goes from the east sonic. I'll buy whatever she suggests if I know it's her on the speaker.

So we have established predilections for pretty voices and pretty blondes.

Tell me doctor bozo, have I maladaptated? Is it wrong that I have should have the freedom as a non-felon US Citizen to decide for any reason to buy any size of any drink I can pay for? What's your predilection? Freedom or party-line-puke?

I'll live my own life and you can make mumbo jumbo with that, doc. :-)

And no, I'm not paying you.

Spelling police - maladaptated. Leave it alone.

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Liberty275 1 year, 10 months ago

How will the cashier know if you have coke or diet coke in you 48 oz JumboGulp? Is she going to need to taste it before she can sell it to you?

Bloomberg's law is idiocy. If I buy a 32 ounce coke with breakfast, that lasts me until lunch and by then is mostly just water. Does this clown think everyone has time to go get a 16 ounce drink of anything just any time of day? This is the garbage that makes America and Americans stupid and is a blatantly dumb encroachment on our rights.

Nose out Mayor Bonehead.

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whats_going_on 1 year, 10 months ago

maybe if people would cease to keep making themselves obese, we wouldn't need to have to worry? Everyone screams "personal responsibility...yadayadayada"...but it just doesn't work that way and people's lack of responsibility is driving up everyone elses health care costs, etc.

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Flap Doodle 1 year, 10 months ago

I wish I'd have had a big cup of a tasty beverage while watching the news Tuesday evening. Good news makes me thirsty.

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FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 10 months ago

'Bloomberg' is trying to save 'obese' women's lives and Pitts doesn't care. He must like chubby.

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Armored_One 1 year, 10 months ago

When Escape from LA came out, I got a bit of a chuckle at the opening sequence, where it lists the things that are illegal... like red meat, smoking and a whole list of other things...

It's not quite so comical now that laws are being passed that are headed in exactly that direction...

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yourworstnightmare 1 year, 10 months ago

Bloomberg jumped the gun, here.

Just wait until the insurance actuaries get involved, and find that soft drink consumption is tightly correlated with type II diabetes. They won't stop you from drinking massive soft drinks, but they will raise your insurance premiums.

It is the future.

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tbaker 1 year, 10 months ago

This is a great example of how liberal-progressives despise the concept of individual liberty. If a traditional American doesn't like something, they don't buy it. If a liberal-progressive doesn't like something, they want it banned for everybody. The whole idea rests on the arrogant presumption that ordinary people simply cannot navigate the impenetrable mysteries of daily life without the guiding hand of some so-called government expert there to help them; that people should have the liberty to think and act for themselves (unless of course they want an abortion)

They are turning the entire country into a giant assisted living facility.

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tange 1 year, 10 months ago

The Big Gulp does not complement my cupholder.

/ nor my aspartame (Greek pronunciation)

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Pastor_Bedtime 1 year, 10 months ago

Another nanny-state program from a presumptuous, overbearing government.

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Lateralis 1 year, 10 months ago

Funny how liberals want to vote for Obama who had he been arrested and convicted for possessing marijuana or “a little blow” wouldn’t even be president. The hypocrite in chief is throwing not only people that grow marijuana in jail but people that possess for medicinal reasons.

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Liberal 1 year, 10 months ago

Funny that liberals want to ban everything but smoking pot and abortions. Yes Bloomberg is a liberal.

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beatrice 1 year, 10 months ago

What we should be doing is teaching nutrition in our schools, along with basic cooking skills. Sadly, too few people cook anymore, they just heat packaged goods.

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rockchalker52 1 year, 10 months ago

I don't like this one, Bloomby. It's gonna blow up on ya.

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somedude20 1 year, 10 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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weiser 1 year, 10 months ago

I think they should ban the Big Gulps, and as a reward everyone should get the medium size for free. Put it in Obama care!

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pace 1 year, 10 months ago

Just say no to soda pop. Really weird law but only convenient to the guy who can afford to buy two small drinks for usually twice the price of the large Every once in a while I buy the large (32 ounce) milk shake at the Sonic after 8 pm.. I take it home and split it with my family. Who in the world can drink two pounds of milk shake?

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BorderRat 1 year, 10 months ago

I'll give up my big gulp when they pry it from my cold dead fingers.

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Agnostick 1 year, 10 months ago

Funny joke I read on another forum:

Just as they are close to legalizing marijuana, they are trying to ban munchies.

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costello 1 year, 10 months ago

I've thought about this issue a lot. The thing that concerns me is that some people think they know what's best as far as diet goes. There are people who "know" that saturated fat and cholesterol are bad for you. I don't happen to agree. People have been eating meat, butter, cream, and eggs for millenia. I happen to think those are better choses for me that, for example, a Healthy Choice frozen entre. If I've researched the issue and consulted my doctor, why should the foods I want to eat be banned or highly taxed?

No one's arguing (as far as I know) that the crap in a Big Gulp is good for you, but I worry about the slippery slope from extremely high sugar foods to other foods that we "know" are bad for us.

A more interesting question IMO is whether the ingredients in that Big Gulp have been subsidized by tax dollars. How much would the Big Gulp cost if the price of the corn to make the HFCS wasn't artificially lowered through subsidies?

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Flap Doodle 1 year, 10 months ago

Next step, corks on forks to keep people from jabbing themselves in the eye while eating.

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Agnostick 1 year, 10 months ago

As I understand it, and have heard from several experts and commentators during the last couple of days, sugar (or "regular") soft drink consumption accounts for a very, very small percentage of the excessive caloric intake that contributes to obesity. I heard one estimate on NPR that it was only 7% or so.

I think if I was a theater owner, and faced with a ban on large cups, I'd invest in a giant cooler/chiller... and offer a package deal of four 12-oz. cans and a red Solo cup with ice. See? No large containers! :p

And then, just like during Prohibition, people start their own "home brew"...

http://www.sodastreamusa.com/

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rockchalk1977 1 year, 10 months ago

Like many liberals in America, the blooming idiot Governor of NYC is pro-choice on some personal decisions and anti-choice on others. Last time I checked, sugary sodas, Big Macs and cigarettes are legal products. If these products are so bad for you make them illegal. Most adults are smart enough to make their own decisions on how much to eat and drink. Do we really need nanny Bloomberg telling us what to do?

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Chris Ogle 1 year, 10 months ago

".......noting that anyone who fears she will die of thirst without 32 ounces of Fanta can simply buy two sodas"

Whats up with the she stuff. Males get fat too.

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RoeDapple 1 year, 10 months ago

Y'all mind if I light up an El Producto and sip on my Jack Daniel's while I contemplates the ramifications of this proposed ban?

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deskboy04 1 year, 10 months ago

Why would someone want such a big soft drink in the first place?

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grammaddy 1 year, 10 months ago

I'm with Bloomberg on this. I also think soda should be banned from being purchased with food stamps.When 1/2(probably more than that) the people on food stamps are ALSO receiving government subsidized health care, why should we allow parents to help destroy the children's teeth and expect the rest of us to pay for it? I have one who allows her kids"junk food" on a daily basis. These kids have had extensive dental work because of it.To me this borders on abuse/neglect. All of it paid for with a medical card.

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Liberty275 1 year, 10 months ago

Mr Pitts, while your fervor is appreciated, Mr Bloomberg is only doing this for your benefit. He knows how much soda you should be allowed. You don't. So, hush up and just be glad that bloomberg thinks you should be allowed a 16 ounce cup.

LOL, Mr Pitts, your dog has turned and bitten you. You should always expect a dog to do that.

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RoeDapple 1 year, 10 months ago

Motorcycle helmets come to mind . . .

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cato_the_elder 1 year, 10 months ago

"Namely, that there are things the law cannot do. And shouldn’t even try."

Like the federal government attempting by mandate to order private citizens to purchase health insurance under threat of fine if they don't.

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Liberty_One 1 year, 10 months ago

I wonder if Pitts feels the same way about the ban on raw milk, the ban on recreational drugs, the ban on selling medicinal drugs without FDA approval and all the other ways the government limits freedom of contract between individuals.

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Ron Holzwarth 1 year, 10 months ago

Complaining about a ban on the public sale of larger sizes of beverages sounds so ridiculous to me.

From the article: "But what Bloomberg proposes has little to do with either of those things. He wishes to ban adults from behaviors that do not imperil anyone else’s health."

Sure, it won't imperil the health of others, except for the unsanitary problem of public urination, but it will hit the public in the pocketbook. Healthcare costs are much higher for overweight people, and since a lot of people do not have health insurance, the public will end up paying more either by higher costs at hospitals due to write-offs, or through publicly financed health care.

I don't think this will reach the level of the Supreme Court, but if it does the United States will become the laughing stock of the world for paying so much attention to such a trivial matter in the midst of all the other very serious problems that our nation and the world are facing.

Nero, tune up your fiddle!

The beverage industry is not at all likely to be wiling to finance a legal battle, because it is more profitable to sell two 8 ounce beverages than it is to sell one 16 ounce bottle. So, since the beverage industry is not likely to pay for a legal fight, exactly who is going to start hiring lawyers? There won't be any contingency fee arrangement for a matter such as this, and I tend to doubt that the ACLU will be interested in financing a legal battle that will be very expensive and of such dubious value.

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observant 1 year, 10 months ago

Pitts is a columnist who won a Pulitzer and the only ones who constant say he is race baiting are the right wing extremists who are usually themselves racist. Pitts is an excellent writer who consistently makes valid points and I don't always agree with him, but unlike most of his detractors, I don't call all of his columns racist.

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CasualObserver 1 year, 10 months ago

How refreshing to finally read an editorial from Mr. Pitts that is not loaded with a bunch of race-baiting nonsense!

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