Bloomberg’s Coked-Out Nanny State

Published June 2, 2012

If New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gets his way, soon you’ll have to buy your Coca Cola from a guy in an alley.

The self-appointed chief of the food police has proposed a citywide ban on the sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened beverages larger than 16 ounces, including soda, coffee, energy drinks, and iced tea. New York’s restaurants, theaters, and street vendors would have to abide by the ban, and it also would extend to sports arenas, ballparks, and even fast food franchises.

In the press conference announcing the move, Bloomberg rejected the idea this would annoy people or store owners.

“Your argument, I guess, could be that it’s a little less convenient to have to carry two 16-ounce drinks to your seat in the movie theater rather than one 32 ounce,” Bloomberg said. “I don’t think you can make the case that we’re taking things away.”

There are a few carve-outs. You can still get a large fruit juice, even though many juices are full of more sugar than sodas. You can still get large milkshakes, even though they’re more fattening. And you can still order a cappuccino or latte with sugary syrup added, in a win for Big Milk’s lobbyists. But who knows how long Bloomberg will grant access to hazelnut or vanilla? And no, you can’t get a large coffee with that same sweetener, for some reason. Maybe the mayor has a thing for latte-sipping.

Of course, there’s no evidence whatsoever that restricting access to larger sodas and sugary drinks will result in any significant downturn in obesity. Instead, this simply functions as a regressive tax. In his announcement, Bloomberg suggested store owners could just charge more for smaller drinks if sales dropped, which they almost certainly will. But research has shown time and again that such price hikes don’t reduce obesity.

Maybe this is an example of a politician believing his own advertising. When Bloomberg made an unsuccessful push to tax soft drinks in 2010, a taxpayer-funded health department ad campaign came under fire for exaggerating the effects of drinking sugary sodas. The lurid ads claimed drinking a can of soda a day “can make you 10 pounds fatter a year.” There’s no real-world example to support that claim, and the New York Times obtained internal emails from the city’s health commissioner that showed staffers and the chief nutritionist in Bloomberg’s own health department had denounced the ads internally as unscientific. But the administration spent taxpayer dollars to run them anyway.

After entering the New York City political scene, Bloomberg once was viewed as a possible independent candidate for the presidency, with his enormous wealth and supposedly moderate appeal. He since has revealed himself to be the worst kind of a boring nanny-stater, bent on restricting the freedom of people and businesses to buy and sell what they wish.

New York City’s slide toward big government is a foregone conclusion–this is just the latest Bloomberg crackdown, following beat-downs of alcohol sales, trans fats, and even table salt. The real question is whether the rest of the country will recognize the danger of this kind of nanny statism if it comes calling in their own neighborhood. The American people have to decide whether there is any limit to what the government should be able to tell you to do.

As for me, you can pry this Coca Cola from my cold dead hands.

Benjamin Domenech ([email protected]) is a research fellow for The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News.