The NYC Soda Ban: Another Solution in Search of a Problem
When a New York City judge halted Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to ban the sale of soda beverages over 16 ounces at corner stores, bars, restaurants and theaters, the ruling represented a victory for consumer choice.
The proposed law was aimed at sodas and other sweetened soft drinks that are presumably contributing to America’s obesity epidemic. Like Mayor Bloomberg’s other salvos against trans-fats, cigarettes, salt, and even loud music, it was essentially an attempt to force healthier lifestyles on NYC residents by regulating consumer behavior. That’s why the judge rightly struck it down as “arbitrary,” “capricious,” and a prime example of government overreach.
But despite its obvious constriction of consumer choice, the ban’s most significant flaw was that it simply isn’t needed. There is ample evidence that consumers who are well-informed make healthier decisions. When presented with a wide array of nutritious options, they make even healthier ones. Right now, the food and beverage industry is already making progress on both fronts – and in ways that don’t deprive New Yorkers of a Big Gulp once in a while.
Food and beverage labels are among the most informative and transparent you can find on any shelf. As consumers have learned more about nutrition and demanded healthier choices, the food and beverage industry has obliged – without limiting choice for those who may prefer larger servings. That fact notwithstanding, the industry is currently working with regulators to craft even stronger standards that balance the need to inform with the desire to market.
In fact, when it comes to choice, soda brands provide the perfect context for how the industry is slanting toward healthier options. Right now, for example, they’re offering a flood of new drinks that cater directly to the health-conscious – and consumers are rewarding them for it. Meanwhile, you can hardly find a high-fructose soft drink any more in high school vending machines that today are stocked with water, juices and vitamin drinks.
Like so many other attempts to limit consumer freedom, New York City’s proposed soda ban was a solution in search of a problem that is best addressed with consumer education and the free market.
New York’s soda ban defeat won’t deter activists, plaintiffs, regulators and lawmakers from launching similar attacks in the future. But, as long as the food and beverage industry stays ahead of the curve on issues of health, nutrition, and choice, it will be well-positioned to contain the mischief of politicians.
Gene Grabowski is an Executive Vice President at LEVICK and a contributing author to LEVICK Daily.