NYC Mayor Bloomberg Brain Unplugged On Soda Ban

Nor' east Thinkin'

Mayor Bloomberg wants his government to control soda drinking. Forget it. Mount an intense PR effort instead

Published on: June 1, 2012

I once thought that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a smart man. I guess he’s not as savvy as I thought. His latest blooper dropped him into Vice President Biden’s category.

Some politicians will say anything to gain votes. But in this case, he has lost his mind to political correctness and it’ll cost him votes.

What did he do?! On Wednesday, Bloomberg proposed a NYC ban on the sale of large sugary drinks.

You have to wonder who hyped him on caffeine to spout with that proposal. Actually, he’s been high on it before. He previously pushed a soda tax shot down by state lawmakers. In 2010, he proposed to ban people from using food stamps to buy sugary drinks, sodas and teas. USDA ultimately nixed that proposal in 2011.

Dr. Thomas Farley, New York's commissioner for health and mental hygiene, laid out the plan details. It would cap serving sizes of sugary drinks – sodas, sweetened teas, vitamin water and more – at 16 ounces as soon as next March. The proposed rule would cover sodas, sweetened teas, vitamin waters and more.

The size restriction wouldn’t apply in grocery stores – just in restaurants, movie theaters, delis and food carts. Violators would face a $200 fine.

Diet sodas containing less than 25 calories per 8-ounce serving, fruit juices, dairy drinks and alcoholic beverages would be exempt – but probably not 16-oounce-plus zero-calorie sodas.

Protect people from themselves?

That’s what the mayor wants to do. Yes, obesity is a nationwide epidemic. And sugary drinks have a role in creating those belly rolls. But it’s scary to think that the mayor wants to set a precedent for hiring “food police”.

Aside of the huge cost and taking aim at price-sensitive populations, David Just, a food marketing expert at Cornell University’s School of Applied Economics and Management, contends it would actually set back the fight against obesity. “Why are they avoiding a ban on fruit juices, avoiding chocolate shakes, lattes, and whatever else with similar amounts of calories or larger portions?

“This proposal targets a certain group of people,” he points out. “It isn’t directly targeting obesity; it’s targeting soda. Sodas are a pretty small part of the equation when it comes to obesity.

Brian Wansink, also a Cornell food marketing expert, notes that those who want sodas will find a way around the ban. And, “if they don’t have much money, they might cut back on fruits or vegetables or a bit of their family meal budget.

“Consumers hate bans, but love promotions. There’s a better way: Soft drink companies and restaurants make money by selling beverages – not sugar. By working with these companies, New York City could discover new ways to better promote lower calorie options.”

An even better idea: If the mayor has enough money for more enforcement, invest it, instead, in an aggressive public relations and education campaign. Countless savvy NYC PR agencies would love to drink and eat that opportunity.

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