Expanding Waistlines: Shrinking Sodas a Start

nanny stateFreedom is under attack! In the largest city of our giant country—the liberty to drink over 16 ounces of sugar syrup is in the crosshairs of the gubmint. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed (and will most likely implement) the nation’s first prohibition on over-sized soda at public venues.

Now the AstroTurf outrage over this alleged ban (in reality, a size reduction) is bubbling up! This week a rally brimming with dozens of soda jerks calling themselves the Million Big Gulp March, shook their high-fructose fists at the mayor. The polling reveals a polarizing 50/50 split in support/opposition to the ordinance. Throw in a couple of commercials by the beverage industry saying they’re offering more fewer-calorie choices—and you have pandemonium!

In 1908, New York City was also the first in the country to have an ordinance against public smoking. Sure it only applied to women and was quickly thrown out, but still, a hundred years later eliminating smoking tobacco just about everywhere has cut down American smokers to only 20 percent of adults (most of whom live in West Virginia). When compared to the 45 percent who smoked cigarettes in the 1950s—it’s a success. Was it a knock to the liberties of smokers? Yes. Do we care? Nope.

Because we are not islands and we live in what is referred to as civilization, therefore laws for the greater good while inconveniencing a couple of people are part of the deal. We do this with traffic: Just because stopping for 90 seconds will make some individuals late doesn’t mean we should ditch all stop lights.

So unless you’re cutting your own firewood and living off the grid in a Ted Kaczynski-style cabin somewhere—what you do more than likely affects the rest of us. And in the case of smoking cigarettes—fumigates the rest of us. (Full disclosure: I’m an ex-smoker and now I’m unapologetically militant. A cliché I know. Cough. Gag.)

“It’s not the role of government to save us from ourselves,” soda pop libertarians will say. That’s just not true. The government prohibits all kinds of things to “save us from ourselves”: lead paint, toxic children’s toys, asbestos, open sewers, terrorists, Occupy protesters, and swear words without a subscription.

In 1890s New York City, carbolic acid, a nasty neurotoxin with the ability to melt the skin off your face was—inexplicably—the go-to means of suicide in Lower Manhattan. It was easily available over-the-counter at drugstores, “a dime’s worth could kill several people” and it was the most gruesome death imaginable. The city’s coroner at the time, a George P. LeBrun, reported 238 suicides in 1899 from carbolic acid. The following year the city’s health department (the same department that will more than likely ban giant sodas at New York movie theaters) made the organic compound frequently used as paint stripper require a doctor’s certificate for purchase. According to LeBrun’s autobiography, the following year the deaths by drinking carbolic acid plummeted to only a “handful of suicides.”

Did it eradicate suicide? Of course not. But was it sensible policy that arguably eased some suffering? Yes. Did it make us “less free?” Hardly.

And when it comes to obesity—we are the fattest generation of one of the fattest countries in the world. If obesity were a virus we’d have fundraisers and celebrity spokespeople drumming up panic. We’d have marches and vigils and Dateline specials. “Will you or your loved ones be next?!” We’d have a death toll counter on CNN. “Fifteen more victims claimed today!” But since it’s just our consuming too much (way too much) and economic forces encourage consuming too much (way too much) we waddle along not half as alarmed as we should be.

tina dupuyH[/c]ere’s the thing with the obesity epidemic: Doing nothing is not fixing the problem.

Is a soda size ban a cure-all? No. Is it the best policy ever introduced? No. Will it make us all thinner? No. But it is a good start. Or really, a start.

Tina Dupuy
Taking Eternal Vigilance Too Far

Posted: Friday, 12 July 2012


  1. Tyrannus Evisceratus says

    I don’t think the soda ban is a good idea at all. When you go down this path pretty soon the government just throws the bill of rights in the trash for our own good.
    “The american people will be safer without guns”
    “Then it’s who needs the right to peaceably assemble”
    Pretty soon you find out you can’t actually do anything and that freedom got traded for safety.
    Maybe I am willing to take the risks necessary to have my freedom.

  2. JoeWeinstein says

    Yes, we have to do something about obesity.  What about simply basic education, and leaving personal choices in place, and making health and fitness ever more cool?  (Which by the way accounts for most of the changes in USA smoking habits.)  Nah, too simple for the likes of the crowd that equates real achievement and real activism to prohibition legislation. 

    I enjoy Dupuy’s columns and usually agree with them.  Here I don’t.  But I can understand where she’s coming from.  Yes, we can just add soda to the controlled substances list.  After all, we Americans, if not exactly super-men, must at least continue to be super-puritans.  We must carry on the Nixon-thru-Obama war on drugs, the war to criminalize substances, the war to punish those who would or could use the substances we choose to criminalize. Especially if the prime use of these substances is (or is alleged to be) self-abuse:  after all, our priority in punishment for crime should be to add to self-punishments, and really punish the self-abusers.   

    According to Dupuy the NY restriction on carbolic acid decreased the number of suicides FROM CARBOLIC ACID.  Did it decrease total suicides?  Did NY public health actually address the mental health problems underlying attractions and compulsions to suicide?  And how many extra deaths resulted from sacrifice of the legitimate and widespread disinfectant uses for carbolic acid? 

  3. Clarabu77 says

    As long as the major food corporations have a say, I really doubt that the size of what they sell us will be changed…Good luck in the land where corn is king…
    Where is the American Medical Association?  We need an ad that shows a diabetic being told what extremity will be amputated next…please forgive me if this offends you, but Americans don’t seem to get things any other way…

  4. The Truth says

    Equating banning lead paint to banning soda size is a stretch, even for a Yahoo journalist.  As you said though, this is “A start”…because people with no ability to see what’s ahead think, “It’s only a small inconvenience.” The next thing, they’ll ban candy bars “It’s for the greater good, right, less fat people and stuff.”  Then they will ban anything with excessive sugar “Wait, does that include wedding cakes?”…Then they will ban anything with excessive salt.  “I mean, we should all be eating less salt, right?”  Then they will ban anything with excessive carbs “Who needs pasta, right?”…

    And on…and on…and on.  It’s all about a better society though right?  I mean, what they are doing is for the better of us…and you’ll keep thinking that…right up until they come after what YOU like…(Caffeine)…Giving up control of your life to give to the government is shameful, and people that are for the government controlling HOW WE EAT are absolutely pathetic IMHO.

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