by: Johnny Gall
Much ado has been made recently about New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban of sugary sodas sold in containers larger than 16 ounces. New York restaurant owners have banded against Bloomberg; Jon Stewart made a show of presenting the many less healthy, but still legal, foods still available; and even Fox News has gotten in on the outrage, touting the usual government-control tripe, though making many progressives somewhat uncomfortable with the fact that they agree. In many ways, it seems like the rejection of this somewhat draconian regulation on carbonated beverages may just be the issue that finally unites us across two party lines. The vast majority of people still seem stunned at the ridiculous and misguided attempt to regulate public health.
There is, however, one group of people who are decidedly not surprised at Bloomberg’s attempt to regulate public health: every smoker in New York. I can practically hear my compatriots now, standing in front of whichever bar they are patronizing tonight and pointing out in loud voices: “Of course, Bloomberg’s forcing us to be healthier. That’s what he always does.”
Yes, despite certain claims that the soda ban is the beginning of a slippery slope, it is in fact the middle; the beginning of said slope occurred subtly, as most do, when Bloomberg banned smoking in bars, a measure which has since caught on; it continued with extreme taxes on tobacco, making the average pack on cigarettes in Manhattan fifteen dollars, when the typical cost is five; it was made with the ban on trans fats in New York restaurants as well as the ban on smoking in public parks. However, Bloomberg’s compulsive need to control the health of New Yorkers doesn’t seem to have irked the population at large until now, which I find highly suspicious.
Let me make myself clear: I do not advocate smoking. It is an expensive and addictive habit. Plus, smoking gives you bad breath, which makes people not want to kiss you, and I cannot in good principle sign off on anything that leads to fewer kisses in the world.
However, I also have little patience with anyone who is suddenly opposed to regulations on public health. I think that if a person wants to defend the citizen’s right to make their own life decisions—unhealthy though they may be—they should do so under all circumstances and not just when it’s a popular habit.
Plus, I don’t really see a huge difference between cigarettes and Mountain Dew. They have pretty much the same nutritional value; they are both pretty addictive (and don’t even contest me here if you’ve never had a conversation with someone who hasn’t had their daily bottle yet); and they both contribute to medical problems.
One could, perhaps, argue that there is no such thing as “second hand soda,” but to that end, I have no problem with smoking outside. In fact, I rather enjoy having a convenient excuse for a five-minute change of scenery. I would applaud Bloomberg for this measure if he did not follow it up by waging war with any who dare sell cigarettes under twelve dollars a pack, which does not seem so invested in lessening second hand smoke as it does convincing smokers to quit.
In the end, the only tangible difference I see between banning sugary sodas and taxing the shit out of tobacco is that soda drinkers are not a class of people. Online dating sites do not ask if you would be willing to date someone who occasionally drinks Pepsi. One does not typically see large groups of people standing outside building downing Sierra Mist.
So, the soda ban is kind of an us and them issue. It is acceptable to regulate smoking, because it affects that other group of people. Those folks with the yellow teeth and the bad coughs over there. But when someone dares threaten the near universal need for a cold Coca-Cola every now and then, it is a step too far, despite the comparable health issues. And I’m sorry, but I have no patience with folks who only take a stance on an issue when it relates to them.
In fact, I think it’s probably a better idea to regulate the unhealthy consumption that is more universal. After all, if the goal is to make the people more aware of health risks, thereby improving the public well-being, then it makes more sense to target health risks which are more widespread and of which the general public is less aware of the risks. And believe me, even if we didn’t have one of you non-smoking people telling us about it every day, we would still know the health risks of smoking. The government has already done a fantastic job of educating the public on those dangers. It’s about time they changed their focus to another vice.
So, while I agree with you that Michael Bloomberg is being ridiculous, and while I sincerely regret the trouble New York businesses will have adjusting to this change of policy, I will not bemoan Bloomberg’s nanny state just because he’s targeting a much wider group of people. In fact, my vindictive side will be hoping he makes things worse. I hope he taxes the hell out of soda. I hope he starts banning it in certain establishments. As a recent escapee of Manhattan, I will be silently laughing every time I hear that Bloomberg has approved another measure which tells you the proper way to consume your sugary drinks, because I remember that he came for us first, and the rest of you didn’t say shit.
Johnny Gall is so, so very close to completing his B.A. from NYU in English and Creative Writing. He has hopes of moving on to seminary, and then to ordained ministry and works with several groups which advocate queer equality in the Methodist church. He is a feminist, anarchist, person of faith, part-time librarian and an all-around good guy.