y now, most readers have probably heard about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to ban the sale of any sugary drink larger than 16 ounces.
There are exceptions, of course. For example, from what I’ve read it won’t apply to the sale of two-liter bottles of soft drinks. But there are so many loopholes that the ban would only amount to busy-work and another opportunity for government to try to meddle in individuals’ lives.
And thank goodness it’s not happening here—not on that topic, at least … and not yet …
Unfortunately, Missouri has its share of silly items like these that are proposed for some vague “good of the people” but either have no teeth or have plenty of loopholes. And all that is really secondary to the fact that the government’s influence over these kinds of things should be minimal at first.
Take, for example, the New York proposal. The suggested ban is supposed to be a tool in the battle against obesity—especially juvenile obesity. But the enormous cups of cola, flavored slush or sweetened fruit juices are really only one part of the growing (no pun intended) trend of young people who are carrying extra weight. Large-size fries, king-size candy bars, big bags of chips—these things wouldn’t be covered by a moratorium on sugary drinks.
In fact, even sugary drinks aren’t really affected by the ban. What’s to stop someone from buying two 16-ounce drinks, or even a two-liter (maybe three-liter) bottle? Or he or she could go home and mix up a huge pitcher of lemonade, chock full of sugar, and drink it in one sitting. There are probably half a dozen other easy ways to sidestep this proposed ban, which is almost certainly well-intended but poorly considered.
Or consider an issue that’s closer to home. Some months ago, there was a big uproar over the highly-caffeinated alcoholic drink called Four Loko (though there were actually several brands of alcoholic energy drinks that could be found on the shelves at that time). There were stories of minors who pursued these drinks despite warnings that the energy-boosting ingredients and the alcohol combined for some significant health risks, including heart attacks.
I can actually speak with some authority about that, because at the height of the furor, a friend and I decided to see what the big deal was and we bought a couple of cans of the stuff. Believe me, I admire anyone who could choke down one of those things—I’ve drunk cough syrup that was more appetizing. Obviously, we didn’t have heart attacks.
But the warnings about mixing alcohol and caffeine made me think twice. What about Irish coffee, a whiskey-and-coffee mixture that’s been around for generations? Or rum and Coke? Or, for that matter, any number of hard liquors that are often mixed with cola?
I was told that Four Loko was worse. Maybe because it was the color of Kool-Aid. Maybe because the cans were quite large, with high alcohol and caffeine content.
But were those the reasons for the problems? Not in my opinion. My take on it was that it was minors drinking the stuff—and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that minors shouldn’t be drinking at all.
Which brings me back to Bloomberg’s attempt to play nanny to everyone in New York City. Let’s assume that it’s true that big, sugary drinks play an unusually large (again, no pun intended) role in the spread of obesity. Let’s go so far, even, as to agree that a 32-ounce soft drink just plain isn’t good for you, or me, or anyone else. My next question, then, is “so what?”
There are lots of things people do that aren’t good for them. Excessive tanning, for example. Or sitting on the couch for too many hours each day. Or speeding. Or overeating. Or any one of a number of other things, too numerous to list here.
In fact, this list is far too long to even begin to address all the risky things that people do every single day of their lives. A city’s government may be able to step in and say that if you want more than 16 ounces of root beer, you’ll have to buy two cups of the stuff—but what business is it of theirs? How far will they go? Will they start electrifying the couch, rationing food, requiring sunscreen and putting speed controls on our cars?
I hope not. But I fear, unfortunately, that some of these things might be coming.
By Eric Copeland • email@example.com