When I first heard about what happened in New York City Thursday, I didn’t believe it — as a co-worker wearing a big grin told me that officials there were banning sales of soft drinks larger than 16 ounces, I thought it was a joke.
After later getting the chance to go online to explore the lowdown on this strange disclosure, sure enough there it was in black and white: The New York Board of Health had approved a ban on large sodas and other sugary drinks sold by restaurants, cafeterias, movie theaters and street vendors.
Officials in the Big Apple have taken such drastic action — the first such restriction in the nation — as a blow against obesity, which as everyone knows is a big problem everywhere. But my first impression upon hearing this was why don’t they also ban sofas, TV remote-controls and refrigerators if they really want to get to the root of the problem?
Another thing that came to my mind in a New York minute regarding its ban on large soft drinks is “Thank God I don’t live there!” As ridiculous as some rules adopted by our local and state governments might be, I could never envision such a stupid law being instituted in North Carolina.
The whole idea makes me want to explode with all the fury of a shaken-up Pepsi in Victory Lane.
I certainly wouldn’t want to be the clerk at a country store, for example, who had to tell a 220-pound sawmill worker at the end of the day that he couldn’t buy a 24- or 20-ounce drink to quench his thirst.
And I’m not even a fan of soft drinks, although I will enjoy a Dr. Pepper from time to time (16 ounces, the New York limit).
But I am a staunch supporter of personal freedom — as well as fairness.
It is understandable for New York City to want to attack the problem of obesity, with an estimated 5,000 New Yorkers dying each year as a result of that condition.
However, soft-drink companies should feel more than a little singled-out by Thursday’s decision, even though New York previously has taken aim at fast-food restaurants and banned trans fats, which are linked to heart disease.
The latest action hints that soft drinks are a sole cause of obesity, or at least a primary factor, which is highly debatable. I won’t blame the large beverage corporations one bit if they throw every ounce of legal weight and money they can at the New York Board of Health to have this silly ban struck down.
One obvious argument is that it addresses a symptom, but not really the disease itself. It’s always been my observation that a person can eat pretty much whatever he or she wants and still not gain a pound as long as they offset that consumption with exercise.
No magic pill or new diet gimmick is associated with this, just a basic function in biology called metabolism.
Naturally, if people eat a lot of high-calorie food and wash it down with big soft drinks, then sit on their duffs with the remote-control and another snack by their side, they are going to get fat.
The real issue is people’s bad habits, which have been reinforced by many things in society. Certainly, the emphasis on labor-saving inventions such as TV remotes and arranging our whole culture around what’s convenient rather than healthy is mostly responsible.
Educating people and getting them to change some of their habits would seem to be a better solution than demonizing soft drinks, a legitimate consumer product.
Do we ban big automobiles because some people are killed by operating them recklessly? Should large-caliber guns be outlawed for all because a few idiots misuse them?
While it has a vested interest in trying to reduce costs of health care linked to obesity, how far should the government be allowed to go to protect us from ourselves as far as controlling human behavior and our diets?
If New York City’s prohibition (haven’t we been down that road before?) is allowed to stand, I fear what could be next on the agenda for well-intended, but misguided, bureaucrats. If they regulate the portions of what people eat or drink, will they also try to tell them what they can say and think?
Again, its ban is characteristic of the kind of place New York is, a teeming melting-pot metropolis of 8 million people and seemingly just as many objectionable things, including smelly old subways, ridiculously high prices for everything and rude people.
So I really don’t see its moronic soft-drink restriction spreading elsewhere in the country any more than those things have.
And if that does happen through some weird circumstance, this old boy is moving to Russia. At least I wouldn’t be in New York.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.