If you happened to be on a nice stroll near NYC's City Hall yesterday you may have noticed the huge throng of protesting New Yorkers carrying signs and handing out petitions. Why were they all there? Well, they were all super thirsty for at least 20oz of a sugary drink!
Okay, okay... the whole hullabaloo is not just based on people's affinities for soda as a beverage - NYC is up in arms about a ban proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that, if passed, will limit all restaurants and fast food places to selling 16oz sodas, juices and other sugary beverages. Let it be noted that the ban does exclude dairy-based drinks such as milkshakes and alcoholic drinks (sigh of relief).
The issue with the NYC soda ban has moved beyond a simple resistance to change and has instead become a city-wide controversy over whether the government has a right to limit what citizens do and do not drink. The New Yorkers for Beverage Choices have launched a remarkable campaign detailing the 90,100 petition signatures and 1,350 businesses that have banded together to argue for the right to choose what they drink. Their main point is that proposed ban will restrict the freedoms and rights inherent to the principles of America as a country.
While the laissez faire supporters credit their belief that the government should stay out of personal choices such as drink consumption and held signs reading phrases like "My Body, My Choice," many of the protesters come from a financial and business standpoint. They stand up against the bill with the worry that restricting soda sales will seriously impact industry profits and potentially threaten jobs. Among the hundreds of protesters at City Hall yesterday there were people who worked for Coca-Cola Co. and people from the restaurant industry.
Proponents of the Mayor's ban support his belief that a ban on soda size in NYC will help to cut calories in a population where 5,800 people a year are dying from obesity-related causes. As Bloomberg said, "We recognize that the obesity epidemic is one of the most urgent challenges facing our city, and we just refuse to stand on the sidelines while millions of our fellow New Yorkers struggle with the health implications of being overweight or obese."
In light of the current controversy Dr. Brian Elbel and colleagues just released research enumerating different scenarios of what the ban could result in, if passed. His research shows that in the best case the ban would effect 63 fewer calories per person per trip to a fast food place. While 63 calories is really not a huge number, Elbel's studies prove that the ban does have a potential impact on New Yorkers. Elbel supports the proposed ban and in response to protesters says, "There are always going to be tradeoffs between individual choice and liberty and the government's role in protecting the health of its citizens, and the larger social and economic impact obesity can have."
A big concern many people are citing is that if people truly want to drink more than 16oz of soda, they will do it. This ban will not stop those that actually enjoy drinking lots of soda, and thus many argue that it will not impact obesity at all. But it is the hope of the Mayor and other supporters of the NYC soda ban that the combination of anti-obesity educational efforts and the legislative attempts to make the city's environment healthier will in fact create a turn-around in the current health issues in NYC.
Today, July 24, from 1pm-3pm a public hearing is to take place at the City Hall. As the last day for the general New York masses to have their voices heard, a large turn-out is expected. The proposal will be passed based on the votes of the Board of Health and needs no support from the City Council to go into place. Voting will take place Sept. 13 of this year.
So will this bill affect travelers to NYC? In many ways, not at all. You might find it harder to enjoy as much soda as you normally would at great tourist attractions such as NYC sports, but when it comes to other things to do in NYC sodas aren't really a part of the deal anyway. Who wants to drink more than 16oz right before sitting down to one of NYC's great Broadway shows? You'll miss the best song on your trip to the bathroom! And as far as nightlife in New York goes, alcoholic drinks are exempt so you can still count on that yard-long pina colada for your next night on the town.
Ultimately, the NYC soda ban is a very interesting city-wide conversation starter so whether or not it will affect your next trip, it's a good thing to know about before you arrive in the Big Apple. Speaking of which, we're glad NYC was never nicknamed "the Big Soda" or we'd all be in trouble!