Prohibiting the sale of items for “my own protection” is so routine as to rarely garner notice. The only times a ban becomes news is when a news conference is called. Diet pills and aids slip off store shelves and magazine adverts disappear without our notice. Items previously available in aisles become sequestered behind a counter. Bottles of saccharine were pulled off lunch counters decades ago. The lead amounts in what we smoke and what we use to fill our tanks change. Shoe stores no longer purchase x-ray machines for children’s feet and ob/gyn haven’t purchased machines to x-ray growing fetuses in quite some time.
Standards of practice evolve, as does our orientation to products. Limiting what can be sold as a food item is not a bad idea for a culture with a toxic relationship with processed foods. Forcing the processed food industry to take responsibility for the bad habits they’ve helped foster is not such a bad tactic.
Mayor Bloomberg is proposing a big gulp ban in NYC. Sugared drinks would be limited according to size. A sweetened coffee could not be larger than 16 ounces. Movie theaters could not sell soda in extra large cups. Newstands could sell large sweetened drinks, but food establishments could not. The loopholes and complexities in such a plan are a bit challenging. Enforcing this law in any meaningful way will be a bear. And what does it actually accomplish? People might now feel forced to buy the more expensive (per serving) sizes, perhaps in multiples. There will be an increase in waste and expenditure. Soon a big gulp black market will crop up. People will buy bottles in bulk and decant into large containers for resale. Forcing people to buy more of something is not a good prevention tactic.
What if we were to tax non-food items the way we do cigarettes and alcohol? A “fortified” water, soda or sport drink for $10 is not as appealing as water. The beverage market will take a direct hit and people will drink less sugar water. Surely this has occurred to a few people in city hall. So what’s the problem? Why develop a complicated system, difficult to enforce and with limited efficacy? Why turn down potential tax revenue? Could there have been a compromise reached between the very vocal beverage industry and the mayor’s office?
If we are serious about keeping super-sized calorie laden and nutritionally free substances out of the mouths of Americans, then we should do so. If we want to look as if we are doing something without actually making a difference I suppose the War on the Big Gulp is the way to go.