No sooner has New York City’s Board of Health approved a ban on sugary beverages over 16 ounces, than beverage and restaurant groups have filed suit against the city to try to prevent the ban from taking effect.
The ban, which applies only to restaurants, cafeterias and concession stands in NYC, will still allow convenience stores and supermarkets to sell sodas of any size. It will also allow all vendors to sell as many smaller sodas to any given customer as that customer would like. (Though I’m guessing “two-for-one” deals are out.)
But industry groups don’t like it. And that’s understandable. The ban could prove bad for business, as sodas larger than 16 ounces remain popular, and placing limits on their sale can only be expected to hurt sales. Vendors targeted by the new law–merely because the city has the legal authority to regulate them–are also understandably unhappy, as customers who can’t buy large sodas on their premises can go next door or across the street and buy large sodas at unregulated vendors.
And these groups have a major moral gripe as well: sugary beverages are hardly the only food or drink causing health problems in the city, and yet they’re the only ones subject to the ban. Doughnuts, French fries, ice cream, burgers and candy are all unrestricted.
Still, the city has limited power to prevent the sale of patently unhealthy foods, and sodas, packing a great number of calories and zero nutritional value, may be the most sensible place to start. An earlier ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, and a requirement that chain restaurants post calorie counts on their menus, both faced lawsuits when passed, as well, but are now widely accepted industry practices. This ban on large soda sizes may well survive this industry lawsuit and become widely accepted by society too.
I’ve written before against the ban, primarily because it’s an odd half-measure that sends mixed signals, seems to condone small portions of a beverage that’s dangerous enough to our health to merit legal restrictions, affects certain vendors but not others, draws an arbitrary line between sugary beverages like sodas and sugary beverages like milkshakes (the former of which are restricted but the latter not) and goes after sugary beverages but not other sugary foods that may be just as unhealthy if not moreso.
But a big part of me hopes this lawsuit fails, and the ban goes into effect. As silly as the ban seems, as inefficient as it seems and as unfair as it seems, it’s going after something that’s causing major health problems in this country. Two thirds of us are overweight, one third obese. By 2050, one half of us are projected to have diabetes. This is not a condition we should be in, or have to be in.
But it’s not easy to change. Unhealthy foods are all around us. Sodas are available everywhere you go, as are white bread, white flour, white rice, pastries, cookies, donuts and any number of other products with little or no nutritional content and an abundance of calories. Healthy foods are not nearly as available. And the less healthy the food, often the more immediately palatable, convenient, cheap and alluring.
So maybe making it harder–if only a little bit–to find sugary beverages everywhere we go could have a similar positive effect that the banning of smoking in bars and restaurants has had on smoking in New York. The change may be small, and limited to only one type of food. But maybe it’s better than nothing.
Do you support the ban?