Why Bloomberg’s New York City Soda Ban is No Big Deal

Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban on the sale of “sugary drinks" larger than 16 fluid ounces, applying to baseball stadiums, restaurants, movie theaters, and street carts, among other locations, has sparked a national debate.

On the side of those opposing the ban – which covers all sweetened drinks with no nutritional value and upwards of 25 calories per 8 fluid ounces – one hears the usual cries against the imposition of a “nanny state.” Those in support of the measure cite growing soda portions and an American obesity epidemic of alarming proportions.

Both sides have a point. At the same time that government has no business meddling with its citizens' dietary choices, obesity is a serious national problem.

But while journalists think up new puns for headlines and article comments pile up in real-time, it’s worth taking a step back and considering what this so-called “ban” will really do. Little change is likely to take place if the measure passes.

At a restaurant, one could bypass the law by ordering two sodas, one after the other. At the corner convenience store or at a vending machine, a patron would still be allowed to buy sodas larger than 16 ounces -- as many as he or she pleased. Juices, no matter their sugar content, as well as diet sodas, would be exempt from the law.

It is difficult to argue that anyone will suffer from this new law. Gas, paper, and wheat are all essential products. Cigarettes and alcohol have many hooked. Yet soda is neither essential, nor addictive. 

Buying several colas at a movie theater and dumping them into a smuggled 64-ounce cup may end up costing New Yorkers more than a traditional big gulp. It may be inconvenient. But it’s hard to imagine someone so desperate doing such a thing.

Ultimately, the proposed measure is a tax on sugary drinks in select locations. Nothing more, nothing less.

If Chicken Little's ultra-libertarian disciples would like to, on principle, oppose a measure that changes almost nothing, so be it.  If self-righteous statists want to take them on, claiming that municipal control of citizens' diets is the only possible way to effectively combat obesity, let it happen. There will always be vociferous, ideologically motivated folks seeking a heated political row. The mainstream media will be more than happy to watch from the sidelines, fanning the flames of a debate that promises stellar ratings.

But before the rest of us think about taking on the role of keyboard warriors or outraged pundits, let's recognize the ban for it for what it really is: an inconvenience for soda fanatics and the companies that sell the junk.