New York’s Soda Ban: When good ideas become bad laws


Shucks. There’s no ban on over-sized sugary soda in New York after all.

But that’s OK.

I ban soda all on my own. I don’t drink soda anymore. Not through these lips. When I have to slake a thirst, I keep it simple.

Water, please.

It’s normally free of calories, sugar, or sweeteners.

But is it clean? Hey, what do you think this is–the Sierra Club blog?

I’ve been watching this soda controversy with interest from afar because basically, I’m a food crank, a “know-it-all” vegetarian-type who knows what’s good for you. My actual favorite beverage these days is a self-made drink of extracted organic kale mixed with milled chia seeds, frozen organic blueberries, and water–my healthy version of a super-sized 32 oz. “Big Gulp.”

I’m so healthy I could spit.

So I was tickled pink to see New York take a stand on the right side of over-sized sugary soda drinks.

I know, there’s no meat in soda. But if you read that New York Times Sunday Magazine piece about how corporate chemists (including some Asian Americans) create “food” to make it addictively good, it’s hard to see any processed food as appetizing these days.

A ban on the sale of over-sized drinks makes sense.

What we need is a good law.

I mean, drugs and prostitutes are illegal too, and, well, sometimes you can find those easier in the city than a free drink of water at a public fountain. (Remember those? Weren’t they near the pay phones?)

My New York friends tell me banning soda in the city doesn’t work because the law is just plain weak, with loopholes the size you can drive a small distribution truck through.

Why does the local law hurt the soda-slinging mom and pop delis and their 20 oz. sodas? But meanwhile, a soda addict can waddle to a state-regulated store of corporate convenience where he or she can still get a 32 oz. flagon of pop.

Yep, that’s some ineffective law.

The real concern that gets lost in all this is public health.

A surfeit of soda assures an overload of sugar. Sugar in your system creates a rise in the body’s insulin levels that promotes the storing of fat, rather than the burning of fat. As you store fat, and eat more bad food, your bad choices become a public concern.

You can get sick. You can die. And if you’re poor, the public pays. Childhood diabetes rates make headlines, sure. But overall diabetes rates are bad enough without singling out kids.

And when you look at the racial data behind the stats, it’s a real diversity issue.

Here are some numbers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Asian American groups (Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, and Korean Americans) all had a higher prevalence of diabetes than whites.

Studies also showed African Americans are 1.4 to 2.2 times more likely to have diabetes compared to whites.

Hispanic Americans, particularly Puerto Ricans, have a higher rate than whites.

Native Americans have diabetes rate that’s 2.8 times normal.

Given all those numbers, isn’t it strange how the soda companies have the unquestioned support of many minority community groups that really should be backing Bloomberg’s soda ban effort? But that’s what happens when these community nonprofits, in turn, get financial support from the soda companies. Once you sip from their straw, it might as well be kool-aid.

Frankly, a law against soda sales alone probably wasn’t going to reverse those diabetes numbers.

It’s mostly symbolic. Like the Berkeley City Council banning nukes.

But maybe Mayor Bloomberg should take the same controversial approach he’s using to fight another public health issue: teen pregnancies.

It’s already illegal for minors to have sex (technically, it’s statutory rape). So Bloomberg knows that laws are ineffective. What’s left? A massive guilt-trip oriented outdoor ad campaign. If nothing else, a public information blitz sends a message that may curb behavior. The same thing could work with soda. Tell people what soda does to their bodies. That the sugar in it can make you fat to the point of illness, and that even diet soda pumps you up with unhealthy chemicals.

If it helps, I’ll even throw in the recipe to my organic kale drink–just to provide a healthy alternative.

At this point, I’d say it’s all better than continuing to fight for a bad law that so far has only made a few lawyers and their corporate clients fatter.

You can read the NYS Supreme Court court decision in New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce et al. v. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, et al. here.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
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