Big Brother will soon regulate the size of sodas

May 31, 2012 • 11:50 am

Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. –H. L. Mencken

The Food Fascists are about to strike again, and, of course, it’s in New York City.  As reported by the New York Times:

New York City plans to enact a far-reaching ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts, in the most ambitious effort yet by the Bloomberg administration to combat rising obesity.

The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March.

The measure would not apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages; it would not extend to beverages sold in grocery or convenience stores.

Well, if they’re gonna do that, why not ban the sale of cigarettes in New York City?  That would do far more for health than the sale of Big Gulps.  Surely some people would quit smoking rather than travel to New Jersey for their ciggies.  Others will respond that this would just create a black market for cigarettes.  Well, if that’s true, why not ban bacon?  After all, there’s unlikely to be a black market in bacon.

Yes, obesity is a national problem, but if you really want to solve it, you can ban lots of things, so where does it end? In my view, people have the right to eat as much rich food as they want, and parents should educate their kids about the dangers of overeating. Otherwise we wind up with a Nanny State in which the government determines what you can eat or drink.  Or, if you’re just worried about the kids, card them if they want a soda larger than 16 ounces. No adult should be restricted from having a Big Gulp.

I favor a smoking ban in public places simply because it endangers non-smokers, but I don’t favor banning smoking in parks or on the street. (Yes, yes, I can hear everyone saying that fat people burden all of us with health care costs, but not everyone who drinks diet sodas is fat, nor is everyone who drinks alcohol an alcoholic.)  In Davis, California, I was once admonished by a policeman for smoking a fine Cuban cigar on a park bench.  He said I could smoke it outdoors, but I had to keep moving.  What kind of stupidity is that?

Let a thousand giant sodas be guzzled!

163 thoughts on “Big Brother will soon regulate the size of sodas

  1. I have mixed feelings about this, not in the least because a lot of fast food places have free refills, so limiting the cup size does not limit the amount of soda one consumes at all.

    But more than that, its a cheap measure that ignores the fact that NYC and the whole country need to invest more in getting people into a healthy and active mindset early in life. I was just thinking the other day both about how miserable I was in gym class, and how utterly worthless it was for teaching you how to exercise properly. Perhaps if we started getting Phys-Ed teachers to be more like personal trainers kids could get more tools they need to be fit, rather than just learning the rules to dodgeball and line dancing. And of course, a big city like NYC needs to make sure it has space available for people to exercise when they don’t the money for a gym.

    1. Just prioritize the roads for bicycles and pedestrians in favor of cars, and you’ll not need any more gyms.

      And I do mean “prioritize.” Get rid of the bike lane and replace it with a car lane. And be sure that, just as today’s bike lanes are the width of an average person’s shoulders (less hands braced on handlebars) plus two inches, the car lanes should be the width of an average car (less mirrors) plus two inches. Oh — and be sure to set the speed limit to what’s appropriate for the bicycle, not for the car.

      Yeah, yeah. I know. Completely unreasonable fantasy. But a guy can dream, can’t he?


      1. “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest her or his patients in the care of the human frame, in a proper diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.” – Thomas Edison

        Bike lanes are quite the joke, like having urinating and non-urinating sections in public swimming pools.

        There has to be at the minimum a substantial physical separation between bikes and cars, and by substantial I mean something that will cause damage to the car if collided with as car owners are far more motivated by avoiding damage to their vehicle than the safety of those who are forced to “share” the road with them.

        I say this a both a frequent bike rider (50 km week or more) and a car driver.

        Similar logic applies to pedestrian crossings, at the minimum there must be something analogous to the arm that comes down at level railroad crossings, but the addition of those devices that cause severe tire damage when driven over would increase the safety of pedestrians.

        I say this as a runner who refuses to cross streets at intersections, these are the most dangerous possible place for a pedestrian to cross the road. At the simplest intersection (single lane, no turn bays, no advance/delayed greens etc.) there are at least 6 ways a vehicle can approach you when you are crossing (and these are just the legal ways) compared to just 2 ways if you cross between 2 intersections.

        1. “Substantial physical separation” in practice inevitably winds up trapping cyclists in canyons they can’t escape from, including when they just want to make a turn.

          Cars really only make sense for high-speed long-haul (compared to bicycles); as such, it’s the cars that should be walled in or otherwise separated from their surroundings, not the bicycles.

          Of course, the realistic solution is to build out a public transportation system such that 80% of people on the roads are happy using public transit or bikes for 80% of their trips. Yes, there will always be exceptions where people will need or want a car; that’s why the 80% figure, and not 100%.

          But such a system would be far faster, safe, and cheaper than what we have today. Imagine high-speed commuter rail down the center of all freeways, with trains moving hundreds of people at a time a hundred miles an hour or more. Imagine every major arterial with busses running every couple minutes, and circulators running every several minutes on the side streets. There’d be no need for bus schedules or route maps; simply wait a few minutes for something going the direction you want, get off when it stops going the right direction, and get on the next one going the right direction. There’d be no traffic congestion, and lights could then be timed so that it would be exceedingly rare to get stopped at one.

          Not that I’ll ever live to see anything like that….



          1. Can infant(s) safely use public transportation?

            (I ask this actually not knowing. I suppose there could well be a system in place that accomodates infants and their special safety needs. Perhaps I’ll mosy on over to Google.)

            1. I think so, provided that they are accompanied by adults. Lot’s of people are getting strollers in the subway in New York. I used to do it when my kids were little all the time.

            2. Provided that buses, trains or trams have spaces for their pushchairs, infants are fine on public transport.

      2. “Just prioritize the roads for bicycles and pedestrians in favor of cars, and you’ll not need any more gyms.”

        Ben, one of the reasons that this is completely unreasonable is that you live in town.

        I cannot imagine trying to haul half a ton of feed forty miles on a bicycle.

        The cyclists in this area who come out on weekends in droves to “ride in the country” have no concept that those of us who live here have other things to do with our time than creep along behind them on the road. I have a fantasy that I find out where one of them lives, and get in front of him/her some morning on their way to work, and drive four mph in such a way that they can’t get past me, just to see how they like it.

        I’m all for sharing, but please understand that there are plenty of cyclists who also act like there’s nobody else who has any right to be here. L

        1. Oh — absolutely. Everything I wrote applies to metropolitan areas…which, conveniently enough, still fits within the 80/20 rule.

          Even when I’m driving, I’ll pull over for just one or two drivers to let them pass. Anybody who fails to do likewise — regardless of the number of wheels of the vehicle they’re using or the means to propel it — is an asshole (which is obviously why you don’t act out your fantasy).

          The problem in town is that Heaven and Hell are moved to prevent any driver from experience the frustration of having to spend an extra fifteen seconds on a half-hour trip, and virtually no effort is ever made to protect cyclists from injury and death (especially if it would mean inconveniencing a motorist). Considering it’s the commuters who’re doing all the polluting, depleting our energy reserves, driving the demand for invasions of oil-rich countries, and driving up the cost of public health, I find that a most perverted state of affairs.

          There’s most emphatically a place for powered vehicles in our transportation system. That place just shouldn’t come as the cost of the lives and wellbeing of everybody else, is all.


          1. I absolutely agree.

            The rail system in Europe is a joy. It goes to the smallest of places, leaving the rider free to enjoy the scenery, read, compute, or do the c-word puzzle. It’s clean and on time, at least in Switzerland, where I’ve done most of my train-riding.

            And, yes, we pull over when we’re pulling a trailer or heavily laden with feed or another load.

            I once had an experience where I was trying to get an injured animal to the vet, and came upon four cyclists riding side-by-side on a country road. They would not let me pass.

            The goat did not survive, not because of the time we spent on the road, but because he was too injured. But just the thought of him in the back of the pickup suffering while the bike riders hogged the road was enough to sour me. I know they’re not all like that, but it’s a real problem here, especially on weekends. L

            1. I’m so sorry, for you and the goat.

              Considering cyclists can pull over pretty much anywhere, failing to do so is particularly unconscionable.

              And never mind what they do to others by hindering traffic…it’s far more pleasant to see taillights quickly vanish in front of you than to have an angry driver riding your ass trying to get you to pull over. I can’t fathom, on any level, what would keep them from pulling over.

              Now, multi-lane roads where there’s plenty of opportunity to get by? Sure — take the lane. That’s even what Arizona state law says cyclists should do if there’s not enough room for drivers to safely pass cyclists outside the rightmost vehicle lane. Or take the lane if you’re keeping up with traffic or at least doing the speed limit.

              But when those behind you don’t have the option of passing, even if you’re already speeding yourself, a civilized person will figure out a safe way to do the polite thing and pull over.


              1. Why this attitude that whoever wants to go fastest should have right of way over everybody else? The roads are a public funded infrastructure, and the speed limits are for protection of the public from the rate of harm which is imposed on them by other users. So if you’re already exceeding the speed limit yourself, why do you feel obligated to go out of your way to facilitate somebody else to behave in an even more antisocial manner?

              2. @Cesiumfrog, because the laft lane is called the “passing lane”, it is to be used for passing, if you are not passing someone and are interested in going with the flow, stay out of it. Nothing is more irritating than having to sit behind someone who is pacing the car to their right, move out of the way!

              3. +1 b&

                If someone catches me up on a winding road, I reckon the only polite thing to do is ease over at the first opportunity and let them past. It takes me – what? – three seconds tops? – all the following car needs is to know that I’m going to slow slightly and give them room, and not accelerate while they’re passing. And as soon as they get past, they’re gone – they were, after all, going faster than me or they wouldn’t have caught me up. As against which I could have the joy of having them sniffing around my back fender for miles and maybe desperately trying to squeeze past in some unsafe spot – what’s the sense in that?

                Of course if I catch someone else up I’d like them to show the same courtesy. Sometimes people do.

      3. Oh, I definitely agree, and honestly, from my time in NYC and other major cities, I got almost everywhere on foot or on the subway… just having good public transport really increases your physical activity over having a car.
        I’ve also heard that another thing that really discourages cyclists is that there is simply so much bike theft… having safter, indoor areas to place your bike dramatically encourages using them, as I’m sure a lot of people don’t want to get stranded when someone makes off with their bike while they’re at work.

  2. This is another one of those not-miserable-in-theory ideas that can only be bad in practice.

    I have no problem with regulating commercial speech, particularly enforcing truth in advertising. In a similar vein, I don’t have any objection in principle to requiring a certain level of reasonableness in commercial packaging. That’s especially true considering all the studies that show that people basically eat and drink whatever’s put in front of them, and that they’re happy to pay a perceived-small premium for something with virtually no marginal cost to the seller to get a “bargain.”

    But, right off the bat, that this applies only to sugared carbonated beverages? Sorry, if it’s gone off the rails in the very first round, count me out.

    Tobacco smoke I see no differently from other products of combustion. Health and safety regulations prohibit open fires or gas generators from being operated in public and work spaces (unless, of course, there’s appropriate ventilation equipment in place, etc.) and I see no reason why tobacco smoke should be any different. But I’d have no problem with somebody sucking on nicotine-infused licorice sticks at the office all day long — knock yourself out.



  3. even better for our health would be banning drones. Pres O & Co sure seems hooked on them – and all the other nation states are joining in and their drones will be with us and on and on and on. But banning sugar drinks? Solves all our problems…..

    1. Banning drones? Are you drunk? How would that increase our health? Are you trying to imply that other nation-states will violate our airspace with their drones, and that that will, in turn, be bad for us? Unlike many nations, our airspace is relatively secure–both because of our technological advantages and the fact that we really only have two neighbors, neither of which are even remotely hostile or capable of launching a sophisticated espionage campaign against us. And I’m speaking as someone who has actual experience both with UAVs and our sovereign airspace. UAVs have, in general, done nothing but increase our security. So I think you’re dumb.

      That being said, I agree that banning high-volume sugary drinks is kind of stupid. I understand the health costs, but nanny-stating really won’t help anything.

  4. I predict that the ‘twofer’, a device holding 2 16 f.oz drinks with a bifurcated straw will make its appearance.

  5. Banning cigs == limiting size of bottles?

    I’m a bit queasy about these kinds of regulations too, but don’t make absurd analogies.

    1. It’s not absurd. If we wanted to take a single step to improve the nation’s health, it would be to ban cigarettes. We already ban smoking them in most places, so the next step is to ban their sale. After all, NYC bans the use of trans fats.

      1. I’m fine with protecting people from unwelcome side-effects from other people’s indulgences (second-hand smoke) and with stopping corporations from manipulating people into causing harm to themselves (truth in advertising, FDA regulation, the basic intent behind this misguided soda ban).

        I’ve got a real problem, though, with protecting people from themselves, especially by any form of prohibition.

        We’ve struck a pretty good balance with alcohol, especially after we recovered from the insanity that was the Volstead Act. I think we’re in decent shape with respect to tobacco these days, though I admittedly haven’t paid much attention to the situation on the ground. The War on Drugs is an unmitigated disaster in every conceivable way, and a ban on cigarettes would be just as awful.

        The ban on trans fats I see as no different from a ban on any other food additive; the ban on certain food dyes was a very, very good thing.


        1. What’s the deal with the ban on food dyes? Are they dangerous? I believe this ban is the reason I can’t get a certain Japanese sweet that I really enjoy here in America.

      2. Because tobacco is an addictive drug, I favour registering addicts and making tobacco available to them on prescription. (But I don’t expect it in my lifetime.)

        We have just had a budget that hikes the tax on tobacco (and a leak of a government document pointing out that if tobacco users are allowed to die it relieves the elderly-care budget). One Māori MP, the associate Minister of Health, wants a ban on tobacco within a few years (Māori are the greatest smokers with the shortest life-spans)

        1. Caffeine is an addictive drug, do you think coffee should only be available on prescription too?

    2. About 3 times a year, maybe 4, I indulge myself with two cigarettes (it’s really not possible to smoke only one). These times are usually after a great night of conversation, or some good food,
      or a really decent martini, or someone else is smoking and they make it look incredibly appetizing, or, you know, some ground pounding sex.

      No one shall judge me, and no one squared shall impose their stupid judgement on my pleasures.

  6. The only things Imam Bloomberg needs to work on are his increasing stupidity and dhimmitude. Jesus H. Christ, yorkers, vote the guy out!

  7. “What kind of stupidity is that?” It’s the kind of stupidity that grows from the mind of a ridiculous, I-wish-I-had-a-life person.

    We’re surrounded. Get used to it.

    I’ve mastered many strategies that easily outwit these morons. They’re easy to learn and master.

  8. I’ve also seen plenty of articles pointing out things like ‘food deserts’: basically that there are places in the country where it can be damn hard to get groceries, let alone affordable things. Not to mention that if you are running on minimum income fast-food value meals are cheap per calorie. Sure, they’re terrible for you, but you can buy nutritious food that takes time you don’t have to prepare and that means you run over budget a week in… or you can invest in cheap carbs and protein that takes little to no effort and is probably easily available (wherever you are).

    So, yeah, if you want to improve the health of the country, encourage things that will mean we all have access to nutritious, cheap food and (as also mentioned) the time and ability (and safety) to exercise. Plus, you know, general anti-poverty and health care efforts; people who have the money can be more choosy about diet and have more time to exercise.

    Of course, it’s easier to tax sodas.

  9. Fascists are about to strike again

    This was an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where they make Paddy’s the freest bar in America—everything goes. Ends with Danny Devito reprising the role of the Russian roulette referee from Deer Hunter.

    I think it was called “Jerry Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass”:

  10. This law seems pretty silly to me too, mostly due to ‘boo, nanny state!’ intuitions. But I don’t buy the slippery slope argument: i.e. ‘if we’re banning soda, why not bacon?’. It could easily make sense to ban soda but no other food items, if soda is the food item which seems to be harming health the most.

    I also think the cigarette and bike lane points only work if you already have some other reason to be opposed to the soda ban (such as disliking nanny states, for example). Otherwise, the conclusion could easily be that if all of them improve health, then yes, we should do all or any of them.

    1. Jerry’s argument isn’t an example of the slippery slope fallacy. That would go something like this: “The next thing they will do is ban sugar, then additives, then fried food, then fat people…”

      He is merely pointing out that this is in effect little more than grandstanding. It’s a gesture (and a rather illiberal one) that is not particularly likely to achieve its stated goal. It’s not much more than another notch in the mayor’s belt so that he can claim that he “did something” to combat a social problem.

      There are plenty of other ways to make people more healthy, and if you *have* to go the banning route, then yes, banning cigarettes would be a better choice. They won’t of course, cigarettes net governments too many tax dollars.

      1. If the ban is not effective, that is a strong argument against the ban. Crappiness of living in a nanny state is also a strong argument against the ban. However, the fact that banning cigarettes might be even better is *not* a strong argument. Neither is the fact that the mayor is likely to have cynical motives. And finally, neither is the idea that there is no principled reason not to also ban bacon. It was the first and last of arguments, which read JAC as making in his post, which I meant to criticize. I enjoyed your response, and appreciate it, but you haven’t addressed my concerns.

        Not a big deal though. Rather than worrying about that, the real question seems to be, is it effective? I agree that it probably won’t be, but perhaps our intuitions are wrong. I’ll be curious to see if it makes a difference. Perhaps just in spreading awareness of the health impacts of sugary drinks, it will be effective.

      2. “cigarettes net governments too many tax dollars.”
        There’s your win/win solution: tax drinks with a sugar level above a certain amount in the same way that you tax fags or booze. Those who want to indulge can still do so, but they have to contribute towards the costs that obesity causes the health system.

  11. we wind up with a Nanny State in which the government determines what you can eat or drink.

    JC wants people to choose what to eat or drink of their own free will!

  12. “He said I could smoke it outdoors, but I had to keep moving. What kind of stupidity is that?”

    Perhaps his rationale was that you could get your aerobic exercise at the same time? 😉

    BTW, if one has a right to life, does one have a right to food? After all, one must eat to live (as opposed to live to eat, re: obesity).

  13. I think there’s a big difference between regulating the size of packaging and outright bans. If you want more then buy several cups, buy 2l bottles, buy a flat. That’s quite different than saying you can’t buy something at all.

    For instance, in Canada if you buy beer there is a fixed upper limit on the concentration of alcohol. Same for wine and other drinks. You’re still free to buy as many bottles as you want so there’s no ban but it all helps regulate portion control and adds some predictability to drinking a pint. We’re talking here about regulating the size not the concentration but I think the principle is the same.

    I don’t see why it’s such a big deal to say that there could be some max number of calories in a single cup of soda or however they’re going to handle the regs. Buy as many bottles as you want, get as many refills as you want, but make sure there’s at least some intent to go back for more.

    1. Again, free refills.

      Many places, you get served the fresh glass without even asking, so there goes intent to go back for more.


      1. I recall a study where one group got a bowl of soup that filled up automatically from a concealed bottom and another group got explicit, obvious refills and the obvious refill group ate less. (Unless my memory is shot.)

        But perhaps that does provide an exception. So what if it does? I don’t see anyone trying to say that there should be fixed regs on the volume of soda that people should drink, just that there should be some portion control. If you want a dozen portions then go crazy. If a store wants to give you those dozen portions for free, that’s their call.

        And let’s not forget that there are two issues: whether this will be effective and whether this is a gross violation of our rights. I think the first is debatable (I think the impact will be slight) and the latter is a clear “no”. It isn’t a ban so talk about circumventing it or finding loopholes is just silly. Here’s a loophole: buy a second drink. Or a third.

        1. I rarely drink coffee. I really like it, but I hate what it does to me. Still, every few months or so I’ll have a cup with breakfast somewhere (or a Turkish coffee with dessert) and really enjoy it.

          I’m quite happy with a single cup at such times, even if there’re free refills. But if the waitress comes by to top off the cup, of course I let her…and I invariably wind up drinking a lot more than just that one cup (and, if I wind up regretting the decision to have some coffee, that’s when it happens).

          Just some anecdata, I know, but still….


            1. If you felt the way I do after drinking eight cups of coffee, you wouldn’t need any fortitude to not do that again.

              Once at a coffee shop when I was at ASU. Never, ever, never again.


  14. I agree with JC.

    I am also bothered by what strikes me as the purely symbolic nature of this ban. No doubt soda consumption is a significant contributor to obesity, but how much contribution do large drink sizes specifically make? What fraction of soda consumption comes in this form? I find it difficult to believe that this ban could possibly result in a measurable difference in NYC obesity. I guess as bans go, I could stomach it more than most, since you can still buy two sodas if you like. It just seems ridiculous and not a little offensive. I have no evidence for this, but I can’t help but imagine a kind of upper class bias at play here too, kale and sushi eating people who wouldn’t be caught dead with an icy soda offended by the huge drinks they see in the hands of the fat but socially little people on the streets. We must stop them, make them more like us, for their own good! I hope that isn’t part of it, but I bet it is.

  15. Soda is absolute junk; non-nutritious liquid candy laced with harmful additives. Diet soda is scarcely better. Much like cigarettes, I doubt that soda can be safely consumed in moderation.

    But if one is stupid enough to ingest 20 or more ounces of this garbage in one sitting, then I’m not sure that the city going around slapping the cola out of your hand is going to matter much.

    Unless it could be shown that the consumption of soda by one person can harm another, I say let people continue with their idiotic decisions about what to put into their bodies.

    1. If anything, diet sweeteners are worse. Your body knows how to metabolize sugars. The sweeteners trigger many of the same physiological responses (including insulin production), and then the body has to deal with some weird substance that none of its ancestors ever encountered…and doesn’t ever get the anticipated energy reward. That can really mess things up.

      Not to mention that some are outright carcinogenic….


      1. You may have a point there, and artificial sweetners may be implicated in problems with gut health as well. I was having some fairly serious lower GI and BM issues, and the doc advised me to lay off the Splenda. I dropped it entirely and my condition improved significantly. Yeah, yeah, not very scientific I know.

        1. Indeed, not scientific. The evidence in favour of their safety is considerable. Individual idiosyncrasies, etc. notwithstanding.

          Ben, we’re used to better than that from you. Extraordinary claims require evidence…

      2. I hate artificial sweeteners and diet drinks. I don’t get the appeal and all sweetners taste the same regardless of whether they were magically transformed from real sugar or organically grown in Steve’s garden. Given the option I just drink water or unsweetened tea. I avoid soda anyways, and sugar when I can, but I’m still fat. This restriction wouldn’t help me at all, but Ben’s bike lane idea would. This law is impractical to enforce, and in practice negatively impacts businesses because they now need to retool their beverage service. Most fast food restaurants (in AZ at least) don’t even ask what you want, they hand you a cup and you fill it yourself from a fountain that provides sugary as well as diet drinks, and this same area usually houses a tea pot as well (unless it’s that barely ingestible substance that comes out of the fountain spigot and they dare to call tea). Either these restaurants are going to have to abandon the self serve model, or else restrict all drink sizes, which, in either case impacts profits by hindering line efficiency or eliminating upsell potential through beverage upsizing, which is where these restaurants really make their money. Food item or drink prices will increase to compensate and no one will be able to get a drink larger than 16 ounces, even to go. This might also create hydration problems since the larger drink size could be integral to a lot of these customers’ daily water intake, regardless of the sugar content. This would be an unconscionable act in Arizona, and I’m sure summertime in New York will generate some resistance to this ruling.

    2. 7-Up is pretty not bad. It was the only soda the patients on the children’s ward where my wife worked were allowed.


    3. Observational studies have noted people who consume diet sodas have worse morbidity outcomes. But cause and effect could not be established. A couple of rat studies from last summer seem to implicate artificial sweeteners directly – they seem to be adversely affecting insulin resistance. But still no solid proof.

      I’m of mixed mind about Bloomberg’s ban. To an extent it may be only symbolic. I duly take note it is not an outright ban, but a clarion call against the most egregious excess. Eventually the degree of intervention will have to be commensurate to the scale of the problem. And the obesity epidemic is truly a crisis spiraling out of control.

  16. While I completely agree that banning supersized drinks is idiotic and will be unproductive, I do not agree that smoking on the streets and in the parks should be permitted. It should be banned in all public places – including parks and streets. If someone wants to smoke, they should do it at home or in designated areas.

    Firstly, smoking stinks. I do not care about “fine cuban cigars” or some other babble, to me as someone unadicted and unacustommed to the smoke, it stinks all the same. Unarguably, unequivocaly an very, very unpleasantly. And smokers, who smoke on streets and in parks force others (me) to smell the stench of their disgusting an unhealthy habit against their will – hence the rule of “one persons freedom ends where other persons freedom begins” is violated. Sure, it is violated in enclosed space even more, but it is violated in park as well, albeit little.

    Secondly, from my experience living in a country, where smoking goes completely unregulated, many (if not most) smokers are pigs. Cigarette stubs are here simply everywhere and smokers are mostly not even trying to hit the trash can, they simply dump their butt wherever and whenever they like.

    This is the only thing I really liked about Utah and Idaho – clean streets and really, really fresh air with no smoke puffers on each corner.

    As for obesity and suger in drinks – regulation of the recipe might be more appropriate. Id est not to regulate how much may be sold in one package, but regulate how much sugar is allowed per ounce of drink.

    Of course to have well educated people capable to make their own informed decisions is the best option, alas the most difficult to reach.

    1. “Secondly, from my experience living in a country, where smoking goes completely unregulated, many (if not most) smokers are pigs.”

      Good point. It is amazing how cavalier smokers can be about flinging their cancer sticks away when they have finished getting their fix.

      The only redeeming characteristic about smokers is that they are more likely to be absolute hedonists and were therefore always easier to pick up in bars.

    2. Well, jeepers. Smokers should be governed by manners, same as anyone else. Bad manners abound. And anyone can appreciate that non-smokers should not be tortured by smokers in any way.

      Otherwise, I think your non-smoking rant is over the top and really unpleasant; I hope you and I do not frequent the same parties.

      1. I am telling the following tale with a congenial and smiling voice.

        Once upon a time, a beguiling lass caught my eye, and it seems that I caught hers. She smoked; I did not.

        Not too much time passed, and we found ourselves sitting on the divan in the parlor of my abode, partaking of a boutille du vin. Things seemed to be tracking along nicely. We were each acquiring our targets with our respective fire control radars.

        Not long after, she took a cigarette out and prepared to light it.

        I confess that it was my unexpressed druthers that she smoke outside rather than inside. (Perhaps I should have anticipated this little turn of events. On the other hand, it becomes harder for the brain to cogitate when blood is being directed elsewhere, n’est pas?)

        At the same time, I also considered that she might be of the not unreasonable opinion that, since I invited her to my abode, I ought therefore to tolerate her smoking inside. I can see that, especially were it subsequent to a particularly glorious and grand “ground pounding” activity. Comprehende?

        I can’t recall for sure, but I think that a misting rain had begun to set in, complicating my evaluation of the situation.

        At lightning speed, as best “as I could see my way to do so” (A. Lincoln), I evaluated the relative costs and benefits of expressing to her any desire that she not light up, and hit on the notion that it would be a happy medium compromise and solution were she to stand at the threshold of the doorway, out of the rain (and regardless of whether it were raining), yet able to exhale smoke out into the ether. A “win-win” solution, or so it seemed to me, and so I perceived it ought to be to any “Reasonable Person who had the least inclination to give me some reasonable consideration and respect.

        I considered that, were our positions reversed, I would congenially agree to that. Nay, I would proactively broach and act on that strategem as a solution, and not put her on the spot by whipping out a cigarette unannounced.

        So I did offer that solution, bringing to bear all of my non-verbal, positive facial expressions and paying extremely close attention to the tone of my voice, all in an effort to please the lassie.

        Pray, I ask you – was I being reasonable?

        Well, she would have none of that. I did feel the minor shock of adrenalin apparently kicking in when she made her rejoinder, a counter-offer to the effect that I myself stand outside my house – whether or not in the rain – while she smoked inside.

        I literally took at least thirty seconds – a ridiculously long time – in silence, gazing into infinity, casting my eyes Heavenward, further evaluating the situation, weighing in the balance the cost-benefit ratio. As congenially and sweetly as I could under the circumstances, I said words to the effect that I could not abide that. She replied words to the effect, in civil-enough tones, that I should therefore take her home. In equally civil tone of voice, I told her that I would honor her request.

        We rode in silence those 10-12 minutes and, when we arrived at her abode, she uttered to me – Oh, Heavens! How shall I sanitize it? – words to the effect that I was an anal sphincter. (Apparently because I refused to back down and step outside of my house, while she smoked inside my house?) I declined to respond in equally eschatological terms, but nevertheless firmly expressed my desire, in words to the effect that she depart the conveyance in a timely manner.

        The moral of this tale would seem to be that smokers should date/marry smokers, and non-smokers should date/marry non-smokers, and thereby avoid the subsequent discontent which will inescapably emerge after the vigorous “ground-pounding” has eventually and unavoidably started to taper off.



        1. My dear, after the ground pounding, I usually hand the affiant a bagel and a cup of coffee and advise them that I will call them later. (I am usually lying when I say this.)

          However, I liked your story, and disagreed with none of it.

        2. My wife smokes, but not indoors. She always goes outside, on the verandah, to smoke, no matter how cold it is, because she won’t tolerate the smell of smoke on the furnishings. She denies the obvious connection with the state of her lungs.


      2. “Well, jeepers. Smokers should be governed by manners, same as anyone else.”
        I agree, they should be. But they are not by far majority. Theft is against good manners as well, yet this fact does not make laws against it obsolete. And smoking is not only about bad manners – it is about endangering of other people’s health. Complete ban would be unproductive, as with all drugs, but strict regulation with clear rules is necessary – as it is with all drugs and most “bad manners”.

        “…your non-smoking rant is over the top and really unpleasant” If it is over the top, in the sense of not being on topic, then I appologize to Jerry Coyne as the owner of this site. I comment infrequently, because I mostly agree with him and there is no need for me to nod under everything he writes. But I strongly disagreed with part of what he said now and I think he needs to reconsider his stance.

        I do not care, however, if it is unpleasant to you or anyone else. All I care about is if what I say is justified on rational basis – and I think this is, since no-one found a logical hole in this argument yet. I do not care that someone feels their toes have been stepped on because their bad habit was criticised. If the only objection you have are complaints about my “tone”, well, then be it. Why should I care? Does it ring a bell? Sure it does, this site being many times about saying uncomfortable truths in polite, yet uncompromising tone?

        “I hope you and I do not frequent the same parties.” You do not, with probability converging to 100%. Even if we lived on the same continent, in the same country and spoke the same language, all my friends are either non smokers or conscious smokers who smoke outside. Lucky me.

  17. While I agree with Jerry that Bloomberg’s ban on large sugary drinks is grandstanding, I think the government ought to be active in fostering healthier lifestyles. Jerry’s solution, in which parents must educate their children about to be healthy, sounds nice, but is wishful thinking. Thankfully, we did not go down this path with cigarettes, which are now regulated and taxed punitively. I hope that Bloomberg’s ban will pave the way for more aggressive and effective bans/taxes on unhealthy products.

    1. Fruit is wonderful food. Anybody who has sugar cravings should satisfy them with fresh whole fruit, especially berries. Don’t grab a Snickers; grab an apple (or a mango! or some blueberries or a persimmon or…) and a handful of nuts. It’s tastier, more satisfying, and healthier.

      Fresh-squeezed fruit juice can be a really nice treat, but it would be wise to keep such treats to a rare indulgence, just like any other dessert.

      And pre-packaged fruit juices are as evil as sodas and energy drinks. They might make sense if you’re in the middle of running a marathon, but that’s about it.


  18. I’m in favor of regulations and bans for our own good especially when our evolutionary instincts and taste incline us towards making bad choices.

    In other words, I think collectively we can decide to put in place counter-incentives to help us avoid bad choices. It’s just part of knowing what our genes are up to so that we know how to subvert their goals.

  19. Or looked at another way, it’s part of assisting our genes to do what’s good for us. They had not programmed us for an environment with easy access to sugar or fat.

  20. So, I guess I’ll be the contrarian.

    There’s a 3- or 4-part documentary called Weight of the Nation currently airing on HBO.

    The consensus of the health experts appearing on that show (lots of very credible people, including directors of sections of the NIH) is that the number one cause of our obesity epidemic is the glut of calorie-containing drinks.

    Sugared sodas, sports drinks, AND fruit juices were particularly mentioned.

    Of course, most people don’t drink 24 ounces of orange juice in the morning (except if you go to the Waffle House — and then the juice will be the least of your caloric worries).

    Sugared drinks provide no feeling of satiety. They’re all calories and no fullness (other than the bladder).

    When two-thirds of the country is overweight and one-third is morbidly obese, then I think it behooves us to try to put in place reasonable public policies to deal with the issue. Just like we put reasonable public policies into place with regard to smoking and alcohol.

    Seems to me capping the size of sugared drinks is a perfectly reasonable first step. No one needs that much liquid — other than maybe high-performance long-distance athletes during a competition. Of which there are very few in New York or anywhere else.

    The documentary “Supersize Me” shamed McDonald’s into eliminating the uber-sized portion of fries and drinks.

    Perhaps this will start another discussion among reasonable people.

    All I know is something has to be done. The diabetes epidemic and the heart disease epidemic are going to cost the nation far more than the pain of only being able to get 16 ounces of Mountain Dew at a shot.

    1. I don’t think that there’s any disagreement that sweet drinks are unhealthy, especially in the quantities that Americans consume them. And I’ll certainly agree with you that we could radically reduce the epidemic of the metabolic syndrome just by getting people to stop drinking sweet drinks (assuming they didn’t just substitute them with something else).

      The question is over whether or not it’s the job of government to regulate personal dietary choices by creating yet another form of prohibition.

      As I indicated above, I’m not opposed to the general principle of regulating commercial packaging, but I think the way New York is going about it in this particular instance is especially problematical.

      That still leaves open, of course, what the proper role of government actually is…and I’m not sure I’ve got the answer. Labeling isn’t a terrible idea; “WARNING — the Surgeon General has determined that consuming more than n ounces of sweet beverages per week causes obesity and diabetes” on every Coke (and every menu that sells coke, right next to the warnings about pregnant women drinking alcohol or eating undercooked foods) might actually do some good. Past that…I’m really not sure, and generally lean towards “first, do no harm,” aka nothing.


      1. The government’s job is whatever job we collectively want it to do. This is in the land where representative government was invented.

        1. And darned if I can find anyone I know who was pressuring their legislators to ban BigGulps. I think ALL of these laws are for no good reason except to keep them from avoiding bigger problems that could actually use the help. Legalize/decriminalize marijuana. Fix the crumbling infrastructure. Decide what our military spending should be. Whatever. Things that the whole country has a stake in. Not the ones that are individual preferences.

      2. I largely agree with Kevin.

        Government exists to make our lives better. We restrict personal liberties when our society is faced with a problem so large that it seems more prudent to enact a law than to let everyone do whatever they want. This is why people who run their own businesses which cater to the public cannot refuse to serve blacks, even though it is an infringement of their personal liberty to serve whoever they want. If bigots were a small fraction of the population in 1964, the Civil Rights Act might not have been necessary. But because racism was such a large issue, the scales were tipped in favor of doing something about it, legally, rather than letting people have the freedom to run their businesses as they saw fit.

        What bothers me about Jerry’s post, as well as some of the comments, is that there is no evidence provided for why this ban on sugary drinks would be a bad thing. What would falsify Jerry’s claims? How bad would the national epidemic have to be before he thought that the government should intervene in this way? From the post, I have no idea what principles Jerry is arguing based on – he’s simply complaining.

        The Institute of Medicine recently released a report stating that the obesity epidemic requires a broad governmental response. There are numerous factors in the US that contribute to a climate of weight gain. We have seen for many years that people’s (unfree) will does not win against these factors – it is simply too easy to get fat in this country. I see that as something worth doing something about, for the benefit of our society as a whole.

        My position can be falsified by evidence that what we lose as a result of legally encouraging health will be greater than what we gain. To Jerry and all those against, what would falsify your position? Why have you not stated this already?

        1. The problem is that the ban misses the point. There is a place for government in addressing the obesity problem, but restricting consumers isn’t it. The government can help by improving access to healthy food and safe places for physical activity in poor urban areas. It can restrict manufacturers from marketing junk food to kids and implying health benefits for high sugar foods like granola bars and flavored yogurts. They can be made to provide child-appropriate nutritional information rather than adult portions on foods marketed primarily to kids. It can stop counting french fries and pizza as vegetables for in school lunches, stop subsidizing sugared drinks and junk food through the school lunch program. Government can provide subsidies to fruit and vegetable farmers, and offer grants to improve the infrastructure the way it does for corn. Government grants can be used to educate people on nutrition and health, offer health screenings for the poor.

          NYC has several private organizations that could really use more government support in bringing produce to the city’s food deserts, giving kids a safe place to play, educating, screening, and especially working on the schools. A ban on large drink sodas is at best a distraction from the real problems and the efforts to address them.

          1. Those all sound like good things. But you haven’t given a reason why those solutions are valid, while the soda ban isn’t. It’s okay to restrict manufacturers but not consumers? Why?
            And if the government affects consumer choices by making healthy foods more available and unhealthy foods less available, is that substantively different from simply banning certain unhealthy foods? In either case you are limiting consumer options – it’s just that one method is less obvious.

            And if restricting consumers is such a bad thing, why do we have age limits on alchohol and tobacco consumption?

            1. Children are limited in ways adults are not because minors are substantially different in their ability to make rational decisions and because their dependent status plus lack of experience makes them especially vulnerable as a class. Age restrictions are as much about what adults can do to children as what children are allowed to do for themselves which is why buying drugs for a minor is a crime. Also because as a society we value–or at least pay lip service to–personal autonomy. Who is better situated to make decisions about your life, you or a bureaucrat who knows nothing of your particular situation?

              The war on obesity is is very much like the war on drugs. In both cases the problems are social, not merely individual. Cracking down on dealers and users has, if anything, made the problem for users and non-users worse. The effect has been increasing violence, stronger more dangerous drugs, overwhelming financial burden on the state and law enforcement, and reducing the ability of users to get treatment or even work all without making a dent in the actual problem. Providing help, education, and relief from the underlying problems have shown substantial benefit for sufferers and society as a whole.

              The government could have a far greater effect, at far less cost by changing the things it is already doing rather than taking on new responsibilities it has little chance of actually enforcing.

              Regulating manufacturers is much easier and cheaper than regulating individuals. Since the government does not have unlimited funds or employees the choice should be obvious. Manufacturers also have a much greater effect, their choices in what to make and what to advertise affect billions of purchases each year. Their choices substantially limit the prices and promotions by stores, and the final decisions made by consumers. So again, far greater effect at far less cost.

              Making and enforcing laws costs money that comes out of our pockets, it also has opportunity costs. You’re asking “why not”. The question should be why the government ought to use precious resources to make the smallest of symbolic efforts when it could use the same time and money to do something that will address the problem. It is why they should spend our money to prop up corporate interests rather than what we elected and pay them to do.

  21. Leaving aside for a moment the petty craziness of the whole thing, surely at least they must mean 500ml or smaller?
    Seeing as 16oz is smaller than 500ml, and most bottles are 500ml, they’d in effect be banning bottles.

  22. the government already determines what we eat and drink via massive agricultural subsidies. stop making corn so cheap and make fruit and vegetables cheap instead.

  23. What kind of stupidity is that?

    Why, that’s ‘murcan authoritarian stoopidity. The best kind!!

    This message brought to you by the Foundation for the Promotion of Internet Snark.

  24. Fat people burden us with healthcare costs, cancer patients burden us with healthcare costs, accident victims burden us with healthcare costs – goddamn, everyone burdens us with healthcare costs. First they get the fatsos – that’s just the first step in the Ultimate Solution.

    I say ban office jobs, they clearly contribute to getting fat. Everyone should sling a rucksack over their back and go a-pickin’ cotton.

    Now who *really* burdens us with unnecessary costs like fat undeserved pensions, unnecessary wars, the TSA, federal grants to buddies, etc? Politicians. Let’s ban ’em first.

  25. Oh – the obvious outcome of this law? People buy 2 or 3 smaller drinks. Obviously a law pushed by people with no grip on reality.

    1. You’re thinking of this as an attempt to restrict the freedom of individual consumers, which it is clearly not for the reason you state.

      I think it is better understood as a restriction on the right for businesses to knowingly harm public health. There’s a reason the morbidly obese so often have a fridge full of soft drink to substitute for water; a large cup takes a deceptively improbable amount of extra exercise just to offset the energy intake. Of course, not every consumer has expert knowledge of this, which is why there’s a problem with business practices that are recognised to nudge customers toward consuming more excessive servings (and developing greater health problems) than what they would otherwise be likely to.

  26. My opinion is that this is a good step. They are not banning the sale, simply controlling the portion that can be poured in specific settings.

    That being said, using the Big Gulp as the poster drink was correct. The articles states that 7-11 will not be affected since it would be considered a grocery store.

  27. A couple of overstated points.

    This is a ban on 24 oz sodas, not a ban on soda (period). Therefore the complaint that we should instead get rid of all cigarettes, made by many people, is a weird comparison.

    Secondly, yes, some people will just buy two 16 sodas; but human psychology, the brain/mind, our choice making processes are easily amenable by stupid little tricks like this. That is, this kind of forced proportion limiting will likely have some effect on choices and daily behaviors. Including, possibly, that as people are drinking their mere 16-oz they will be reminded of the need for better behavior and choice management.

    Furthermore, there is no reason why this is more invasive than the trans-fat ban; which I assume most NYers have learned to live with, and probably do not pay any passing thought to in their daily culinary explorations. Of course maybe that would just mean that sodas larger than 16-oz are just the second wheel of the slippery slope . . .

    Accepting that obesity and ridiculous behaviors towards food intake has become a serious problem in this country, I think excessive proportions of sodas makes for the best No. 2 target behind the unnecessary trans-fat.

  28. why not ban bacon?



  29. As someone said above, beginning to recognize why we have the desire structures that we do, beginning to understanding the way clever advertising plays upon (idiotic) structures of our brain/mind to indulge in certain products, shows that we need a balance between believing that wholly uncontrolled individual choice and free markets is probably not the best way to deal with this. And, sad to state, there is too large a chunk of the population struggling in too bad of situations already to think that those parents and schools (many who fail and do not understand these things them selves) will educate/socialize everyone adequately enough to deal with the combination of evolutionary structured desires, free markets, and sneaky advertizing.

    No matter how much we try to curb certain marketing practices through laws, there will probably be some way that the big-money of food companies will find to overcome any concerted nationwide PSA and personal enlightenment project.

    1. Hmmm… on the one hand, “no free will” and on the other hand “those fatsos should be the ones to decide whether or not to drink a tub of coke”.

  30. One of my guilty pleasures is the ginourmous soda at the movies. I hope they don’t ever take that away from me. For one thing, it is the only I can get enouch soda given the amount of ice they pack into those cups first.

  31. What!? You must be kidding. This is all the mayor of NY has to worry about? Soda size! Must be an easy job to sit around all day and worry about sodas while 19 million people in your city need direction and the middle east is about to explode in to pre-Armeggedon

    1. So, what’s the thinking here, that because there are big problems elsewhere the mayor can’t deal with smaller problems locally?

      It’s not like the mayor will be going to every store and inspecting it personally.

  32. “After all, there’s unlikely to be a black market in bacon.”

    Are you our of your mind Jerry? We already have a black market in odd foods: bush meat, unpasturized dairy products, foia gras – why NOT bacon?

  33. Doesn’t the slippery slope argument run both ways? We ban cocaine and heroin to protect citizens from themselves. But we allow alcohol and cigarettes. You just have to draw a line somewhere.

    I know the rates of smoking have fallen over the past decade, while obesity is on the way up. At the least we should keep the school cafeteria free of junk food, actively encourage routine sports, and continue more food health studies.

  34. After all, there’s unlikely to be a black market in bacon.

    I think you’re dead wrong about this. :p

    Bacon bootleggers aside, I am not quite the libertarian about this that you are, but I think a ban is ridiculous. This should take the form of a (modest) tax. Because I’ll tell you what, hardly anybody is gonna freaking enforce this. But if you do it in the form of a tax, then you cut down on the number of people engaging in that behavior (while still giving people the freedom to do so if they reeeeaaallly want to) while also raising revenue.

    In general, when it comes to personal behaviors, I always prefer taxing to banning. Two reasons, one pragmatic, the other ideological: The pragmatic reason is because of the black market thing (overtaxing can cause the same problem, so taxing must be done judiciously), and the ideological reason is because I am loathe to have the government tell consenting adults there’s something they just can’t do… but of course if it has a negative external impact (and believe me, obesity does have negative external impacts*, in terms of burden on the healthcare system, lost productivity, etc.) then I think it’s fair game for the gov’t to at least discourage the behavior.

    * Side note: I am, in fact, classified as obese myself. (5’9″, about 220lbs) Not from too much soda, but more from too much beer and yummy yummy food. I just felt the need to mention it so it didn’t sound like I was demonizing obese people.

  35. Embrace Big Brother!

    He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented coke-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

  36. Well, lookit, we can’t on the one hand point fingers at West Virginia for not outlawing suicide by snake and then take exception to a feeble attempt to help people get a grip on reality as far as the consequences of drinking this stuff by the gallon.

    I have an image seared into my memory of a family at a rest stop on the PA Turnpike, legs like telephone poles, each clutching a huge pail of soda and waddling back to their (apple pie and) Chevy van to blast off further down the pike. I still remember when I was a kid in the ’50s that Coke machines dispensed 6oz bottles (how did we survive?) I’ve even seen soda containers now that have a handle like a bucket – at least 64oz, I guess.

    1. Well said, however, why turn all our personal freedoms over to the government? Just because it happened in the past doesn’t mean we should not have free personal will.

  37. Given that the law restricts serving sizes, and not the ultimate quantity of soda that you can drink, I don’t see how it constitutes such a blow to personal freedom. If I want to drink 128 oz of sugary carbonated goodness a day, I am free to do so by ordering as many medium or even (gasp) small sodas as I wish.
    As is mentioned in post #3, the law seems to be a response to evidence indicating that the serving sizes presented will have an impact on how much one consumes. One could as easily interpret the law as _enhancing_ personal freedom by attempting to remove a subconscious, external influence.

  38. I *HATE* the nanny state. (This, after finding that a convenient path along a coast, much used by people, is to be demolished because it doesn’t meet ‘safety standards’, so people can just struggle along slippery rocks instead. Utter stupidity).

    However, my instinctive dislike of this proposed regulation is countered by that fact that commercial interests are pushing this junk food at the consumers expense in order to maximise their profits. I think I hate commercial interests even more.

    On the whole, I think limiting sizes is a good thing. If I buy stuff at the supermarket, I usually buy the bulk packages because it’s better value for money. This works fine with corn flakes. But with burgers or soft drinks, having bought the bigger better-value package, of course you’re going to drink all of it. This is using our better (anti-waste) instincts against us.

    And since there’s no ban on buying more of the small bottles if you want, I don’t find it too objectionable, IMO the pluses outweigh the minuses.

    Incidentally, I’d happily support a ban on all advertising. Wouldn’t it be lovely not have our intelligence continually insulted by whatever some marketroid thought was clever? As it is, the most I can do is consciously NOT buy anything that’s heavily advertised.

    1. Right. So why not do what NYC does with cigarettes, at least until the US government stops subsidizing sugar, and tax the stupid drinks so people are paying the real cost. In fact, add a tax for the waste too. You know why? Because people will get used to it not being there, but every time they pay the tax they’ll be miffed. But raising the cost of the cigarettes works.

      In Boston they have also removed cigarettes from college campuses and drug stores. (Way over due – what the heck were they doing in drug stores???) Maybe banning the large sizes is not worse than that, but it is so arbitrary (shakes and frappes are not included, for instance) and so nit picking it strikes me as more intrusive. I do think we can use public policy to make healthy choices easier to make and unhealthy choices harder, but I just see this a rich guy “let’s pretend to do something” move. Putting in better playgrounds in poor neighborhoods, promoting walk and bike to school, providing nutrition education at work places etc would be harder but better and more effective.

      I don’t have the data on NYC per se but in general city dwellers in safe environments are thinner. In unsafe environments they look more like suburbanites – because they stay inside and don’t walk around their neighborhood. And yes, you can do more than one thing at a time, but when you seem to be picking on the poor and blaming them they may not be open to other initiatives you present. I wonder if the mayor has talked residents in neighborhoods with higher obesity rates about how best to address their needs – what they think would help.

      This is why it seems “nanny state” or in my opinion, “paternalist state.” It’s not about helping people make good choices, it’s about making choices for them. Of course, if we have no real choice, I guess it doesn’t matter….

      1. Well, I don’t see that taxing it will help (unless the tax is so absurdly high that it really hurts to buy a soda). Because, having paid a higher price for the same huge soda, you’re still going to drink *all of it* (maybe even more certainly so since it cost more).

        Whereas limiting the size means you have to take the extra step of buying the second one.

  39. I find that I rarely disagree with you, but when you say this “people have the right to eat as much rich food as they want” I do. I would say “people have the right to eat as much FOOD as they NEED”. Conspicuous over consumption is not going to feed the 9 billion people we will have by mid century.

    1. I think you’re right but this doesn’t go to the heart of issue. Even if the people have some sort of God-given right to eat and drink as much as they wish, they quite obviously don’t have the right to have their sodas packaged in buckets.

      Want to exercise your right to diabetes, buy two sodas.

  40. You’ve travelled a lot, Jerry, I bet to some of the real Nanny States too. Don’t you have the impression that the people there are somewhat healthier?

    And as to the comparison with tobacco, well, it’s not about what the authorities ought to ban to improve public health, it’s about what they can get away with banning. They can’t ban cigarettes outright, not just yet, but banning giant sodas may be feasible. I’d do a lot of good.

    *Bracing for the onslaught of “but the personal freedoms, dude!” comments*

  41. Its not the food “fascists” doing this.

    Its the liberals, who want to control every aspect of our lives.

    Cradle to grave’

    1. “A government that can do everything FOR you can do anything TO you.”

      Just congenially wonddering – can the same sentiment be reasonably applied to private corporate tyrannies – so-called “corporate persons” – that treat the mass of flesh-and-blood human beings as mere “human resources” and “human capital”?

      James Madison, the “Father of the (U.S.) Constitution,” is alleged to have said that “The purpose of government is to protect the opulent of the minority against the majority.”

  42. There is always this discussion whenever social medicine is considered. For the sake of discussion I will presume it works here as it does in regulating smoking.

    Sometimes it is appropriate too, for example when tee-totalers argues against moderate alcohol consumption despite there being no social medicine justification.

    But then it works it is hard to counter observed savings in death or health for some individuals by such methods with limitations of personal freedom and especially how that feels. Personal freedom is a good principle, but a good principle should never stand in the way for a good outcome!*

    * Admittedly there is a difference between framing personal freedom as “do no harm to others” and as “do not permit harm to others”.

    The limit of personal freedom can certainly be argued as such.

  43. In Davis, California, I was once admonished by a policeman for smoking a fine Cuban cigar on a park bench. He said I could smoke it outdoors, but I had to keep moving. What kind of stupidity is that?

    Strikes me as straightforward case. Using the bench for smoking made it directly unavaliable for non-smokers.

    Less seriously, and I don’t think it entered the policeman’s mind, it dirtied it with heavy metal and PAH containing ash.

    And nicotine.

    Third hand smoking by children has become a serious problem over here. Their nicotine uptake by the skin by touching walls or ledgers where smokers have been around rivals second hand smoking nicotine uptake. (You can measure uptake by measuring the metabolic products, I hear.) Happens mostly in apartments or houses shared by same or other family smokers.

    Apparently this is, or is considered as potentially, a health problem for kids. If that is the case, I say smoking must be 100 % banned, it will be the only way to prevent the poison to enter the public sphere.

  44. Always tricky this stuff.

    If the corporate aristocracy have successfully indoctrinated people into “wanting” the junk they produce then what can be done without violating freedom of choice?

    Similarly, if religious hierarchies have successfully indoctrinated people into “believing” the junk they spout then what can be done without violating freedom of choice?

    1. +1

      Americans seem to have this dread of their government ‘forcing’ them to do anything (though it doesn’t seem to be accompanied by any reluctance to have the government forcing other people to do stuff); but they seem to support the ‘right’ of big corporations to do what they like – at the expense of the ordinary citizen. I find this strange.

  45. Mr Coyne,

    I must say I am a bit surprised at your rant. Not with respect to this particular law (which may be stupid, and little more than window dressing), but more in general. I tell you nothing new if I say that there are many, many areas where the freedom of the individual collides with the interest of us all. In these cases we rely on the government to set up pressures so people are steered away from their undesirable behaviour.

    The government (at least in Europe) “forces” you to drive on the right (and not to drive when you’re drunk), not to buy alcohol under 18, to wear seatbelts, to buy health insurance, to go to school until you are 16, to recycle plastic bottles, etc etc. And yes, this interferes with your freedom.

    However this does not really trouble me for the following reasons:
    – I see no important rights being violated. What the heck if sugar drinks were banned altogether? It is not that you will starve or anything, or can’t enjoy other drinks.
    – generally the government only discourages (taxes). If you insist on unhealthy living, you may still knock yourself out. Feel free!
    – people tend to make stupid choices (also perceived that way by themselves), so why not help them a a little becoming happy?

    PS I could connect this with the “Free Will” discussion…

  46. I think it’s important to realize that when people make poor decisions about their health, the costs of these decisions are often paid by all of us, either through soaring premiums or by directly paying for health care (e.g. Medicare, Medicaid, etc.). Banning large sodas isn’t restricting people’s right to drink as much soda as they want (they can order many smaller sodas), but it will probably get people to think twice about what they’re drinking.

  47. I think the ban is probably misguided, but I would support a huge tax (say $10/ounce over 12 oz.) and put that money to organizations to lobby for changes in the food system to crush and destroy those corporations who are benefitting by convincing americans to kill themselves through diet.

  48. Perhaps instead of banning them the cups should say “this beverage contains 570 calories. It will take 1 1/2 hours of jump roping to burn this off. Please consult a doctor before beginning an exercise regime. And would your doc really want you to drink this?”.

    It seems obvious to me that everything about our society is set up to make us fat. Too much and too easily and cheaply acquired processed food. Too many cars…. Years and years ago ( talking around Al Gore’s first run for Prez.) I noted that the same things that were bad for our planet were bad for our bodies. Systemic and infrastructure changes are hard. Blaming Slurpees is easy.

    Happy National Doughnut Day.

  49. I’m on Big Brother’s side on this. I think it is a net positive.

    *Ideally* personal freedoms would not be curtailed. *Ideally* corn syrup would not be subsidized by my taxes, corporations would not coerce us through marketing and human beings would be capable of making decisions in their own long-term best interest. Stuff is complicated. An imperfect step in the right direction will have to do when there is no ideal solution.

    Related – the obesity problem looks more and more like a calories problem, not a physical activity one:

  50. Other things to ban:

    1) running – 80% of runners get at least one injury per year. Think of the medical savings if we just banned running

    2) hiking – hiking requires driving to pleasant places to hike. Think of the fuel costs that could be saved if we banned hiking.

    3) rock climbing. Good god. A large fraction of climbers die. We could really increase our mortality statistics if we just banned rock climbing.

    4) blogs – if none of us wasted our time on these blogs, companies would be much more productive and we’d rise out of this poor economy.

    yes this post is absurd. so is the sugar ban. Question, which drink has more calories/oz – a good quality beer or coca cola? But note that NYC is not banning 20oz Belgian beers. What about coke v. apple cider? Right again, NYC isn’t banning the higher calorie drink. And apple cider has a much higher fructose content than coke

    I’m surprised nobody has made the point that nutrition science has a looooooong history of major FUBARs. Put bluntly the science sucks. I’m really glad that butter, eggs, and breast milk weren’t banned in the 60s (although the my mom still switched me to margarine, cereal, and formula based on the best evidence at the time). The basic science of human physiology is beautiful. But those are Big Black Boxes between this basic biology and human health, performance, and disease.

  51. Why not a progressive free market solution to this (while I don’t think a truly free market is desirable or even realistic, we should certainly maximize its efficiencies)? Drinking high calorie beverages clearly carries a “hidden cost” (medical costs of treatment and hospitalization for diabetes/heart disease/chronic back pain, lost wages from loss of productivity from these chronic diseases, higher levels of disability from obesity) that is paid directly by neither manufacturer nor consumer. This allows companies (and consumers) to “pass along” the TRUE costs of their product to society, and then we come to expect these lower costs. But why should sugar be so cheap if it costs us so much ultimately? If only calories (or sugar or trans fat, or oil, tobacco, pollution, etc for that matter) COST what they REALLY cost, and not just how much a company can physically manufacture them for, then you can more closely resemble a free(-ish) market.

    You cannot, I think, simply get around this issue by claiming everyone has a free choice to hurt themselves. True enough, but we should not have society set up so that your bad (and costly) decisions should be facile AND subsidized by all. And on the flip side, we as a society have a further responsibility to make “good” decisions easier for all (healthy foods attainable, easy venues for physical activity, lower pollution, more socioeconomic mobility, etc, etc).

    This proposed ban, however, is neither the easy answer nor the Big Brother threat that either side argue. It is somewhat of a too-simplistic “solution” that ultimately limits no ones human rights.

    1. You have to compete with the unhealthy food. You need to discover why people prefer shit rather than healthy food. Then you need to make people a better offer.

      As I’ve learned, you can buy a burger that’s made almost entirely out of cholesterol, fat and rat excrement for a dollar. If a glass of juice costs more than that, I think I see where the problem is.

      1. To be fair, I don’t think companies charge MORE for the rat excrement. As long as it’s within the federal guidelines.

        1. “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.”
          “That’s all right sir, there’s no charge for the extra protein”.

  52. There is a couple of things wrong in my opinion y Jerry Coyne’s arguments. Yes, we have to carry the burden of the costs related to obesity, so there should be something done in order to “make it fair”. Smokers pay more taxes for the harmful products they buy, I don’t know if it is enough to pay their medical problems, but that’s beyond the point. We should give incentives together along with the education Jerry is talking about. This incentives are both directed towards changing a bad habit and towards paying for the deleterious effects they might have on society.

    The case for bacon, is not valid. Latest studies say that fat is not nearly as dangerous as we think, it is carbs that make us fat.

    Another important thing is the flawed comparison in saying that banning large sodas in public places is the same as banning tobacco completely. It would be more like, prohibiting packs of 30 and more… They are not banning sugary drinks, they are just trying to modify the presentation. If I understand well, if you really want more soda, you can still buy another one.

    The main purpose of this thing in my opinion is trying to stop this “intertial drinking” where you don’t actually want more… but since you still have some left… you keep drinking…

    They are not banning the right to drink a lot of soda, they are trying to give incentives to drink it less.

    1. And I have to assume the cost of the ill health of others related to TV viewing, computer gaming and driving (all of which correlate with obesity) Will we have laws banning driving for more than 2 hours and our devices snap off after a certain amount of time? What we need is not government banning things but government proactively doing something. This mayor really doesn’t seem to get it. He halted roll out of a breakfast in the classroom program that is proven to work for fear it was contributing to obesity because the kids would get two breakfasts. This was, mind you, not based on the studies. I wouldn’t even be upset if they required businesses to sell actual small sizes, of if they standardized sizes. Because that would give consumers choice. This is just “I make better decisions than you do.” Maybe he does, but he flies his private jet around quite a bit and we all pay the costs for that, too. Let’s ban private jets next.

      1. As I clarified in my comment. They did not ban drinking large quantities of soda… I guess you just decided to ignore that. Your examples seem to be as flawed as some of Jerry’s. You are right that it should also be done for other things… 2 hours for driving seems a little exaggerated in my opinion, but you don’t realize we do have already laws for that. Alcohol before driving is an example, it is OK to have a beer, or maybe two, before driving, but if you cross a limit, you are doing something illegal (banned). The fact that we still have places where similar rules can be applied… does not say anything about this.

        About the major… I don’t know… And I don’t personally care who he is, and how he does his stuff… My opinion is aimed towards the negative incentives towards excess in drinking sugary drinks. Now, maybe banning is not the ideal thing (you could increase the price per ounce depending on the size you buy), but that’s beyond the point again.

        The main thing is. It is a good thing (IMO) to give incentives to people to make better choices, even when it is for their own health. We already have lots of them (vaccines, regulations for meds, regulations for alcohol, tobacco, etc)

        1. My point is that the driving – not the driving while intoxicated, is correlated to ill health, obesity and coronary disease.

          Mayor, not major. I think you did know that. But maybe it was too hard to work out.

          What’s wrong with removing subsidies for sugars and highways? If you want to encourage better decision making start by removing the incentives in place for bad decision making. And I did say I would be for standardized sizing. Making people pay for the costs of things that are bad for them is a far better way to go than making someone walk out the door with 2 drinks. My son, when he buys and iced tea at our local market, buys the larger size. He usually drinks it over 2 or three days. Why make him buy more bottles, using more plastic? Why is his decision a bad one? He is young and fit and health conscious. I don’t think Mayor Bloomberg knows more about health and nutrition than my son and I sure don’t want him micromanaging lives.

          And what about the ban on private jets?

            1. A lot of red herrings there. Walking is frequently not an alternative to driving if you want to get anywhere in a reasonable time, and I’m sure you know it. (Certainly not for a 2-hour-plus driving distance!).
              TV watching is also completely off the point.

              I think you’re letting your evident dislike for the mayor to lead you into thinking anything he does must be wrong.

              jesusgarcia had it exactly right, IMO.

            2. Hey, lol, sorry… as you notice, English is not my native language.

              And yes, you are right in that one. Maybe a good start would be what you said, less subsidies to sugars and highways, etc. As I said, it might not be the best way to give negative incentives, but it is still a good thing. The argument about the wasting cups is ok, but is not fundamental to the real issue here. You could substitute for only reusable cups, etc.

              As I see, we are not completely disagreeing, believe me, I also value a lot individual freedom, but sometimes it is difficult for me to accept that everyone should be able to make awful decisions that harm them and their children and the tax paying community. Sometimes that much freedom seems contradicting… I think that from your comment then you agree with me that we need incentives to reduce the quantity of sugar consumption in the general population, and as I said in my previous comment, I agree with you that it might far from being the perfect solution… but still it’s a good start… I read an article some time ago, that Denmark (I think) started charging a tax on sugars! That would be awesome in my opinion (and yes, also removing the subsidies you said).

              About the Jet… I don’t think it is a fair example. It would depend on how you perceive he is using that jet. I personally don’t know… but either way I don’t think it should be necessary to ban jets. If he is using it for pleasure and taking advantage of people’s money, then they should ban HIM from using them… but if he used it as they “should” for quick, necessary and important trips… then I don’t think it’s wrong for him to use them… So either way, no banning…

              I mean, you also pay for the very expensive equipment that I use to do cancer research and you don’t try to ban them… If I use it correctly, good, if not, I should just be fired, no?

              1. He uses it to go on holiday. Not sure about the societal good there. taxpayers don’t pay for it but the damage done to the planet is borne by all. Lab equipment is not what I would call a luxury good and certainly does promote a societal good.

                Btw. I don’t live in NYC. My issues with Mayor Bloomberg are just that, issues. I don’t know him peursonally but his latest moves have been paternalistic and classist.

  53. Does anyone recall a study where they randomly assigned work roles? Then they had a break with snacks on the table. The people who been assigned executive/decision making positions opted for the healthy food – fruit, e.g. But the ones assigned roles with little or no decision making ability of consequence went for the high fat, high carb snacks. I can’t find the paper but I vividly recall hearing or reading about it.

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