Last week, Judge Milton Tingling struck down New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s limits on large sugary drinks. Despite Bloomberg’s noble intentions to curb obesity, his proposal amounted to a lazy way to fight the obesity epidemic.
For one, the limit had multiple loopholes: it did not apply to 7-Eleven and its Big Gulp soda or Starbucks and its lattés and milkshakes. If the limit was allowed to take effect, it is conceivable that one New York store would have sodas larger than 16 ounces available, and another store right next door would not have those drinks available. The limit also did not apply to refills, so patrons would still be able to consume the same amount of soda that they would have wanted to.
It is true that Americans’ unhealthy lifestyles bloats the exploding cost of health care. But it’s also unhealthy to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol excessively. Instead of making cigarette or alcohol sales illegal, the United States taxes those products. That, opposed to banning products outright, is the solution; apparently some have forgotten the failures of Prohibition. A negative externality may exist in cigarette smoking — the idea that the price of cigarette packs may be lower than social costs. A tax is imposed to make purchasing cigarette packs harder and to make the market act in a more efficient manner.
This limit serves as easy fodder for the right-wing pundits to seize on the idea of the “nanny state”; the idea that liberals think they know better than others and have never met a regulation on “bad behavior” they didn’t like. Public policy should undoubtedly address America’s obesity epidemic. But simply banning the sale of some sugary drinks in some stores won’t solve much. Children should receive education about healthy lifestyles, underserved communities should have access to fresh produce and perhaps sugary drinks should be taxed. Limiting soda represents a misguided choice, and Judge Tingling did the right thing for New York with his decision.