Monday afternoon, just hours before New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large sugary drinks was to take effect, a state judge blocked the measure because of the law’s “arbitrary and capricious” nature.
The court held that the city’s Board of Health encroached on the authority of the City Council in its approval of the law, a ruling that Bloomberg and the city almost immediately vowed to appeal.
Despite Bloomberg’s vociferous opposition to the decision, the court’s ruling was a sound one not only in its legal reasoning but also in its prevention of the growth of the nanny state and erosion of personal freedom.
The city ordinance, which was set to go into effect midnight on Monday, would have banned the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces throughout the city, albeit with a few exceptions made because of the regulation of some establishments by the state as opposed to the city.
Bloomberg’s high-profile ban was frightening in its implications for government’s growing power to regulate individuals’ freedom of choice. It is, and always should be, a person’s own decision whether they want to eat or drink something, regardless of the potential ill effects on their health.
The proposed ban was an example of New York City’s government grossly overstepping its bounds, but it was also something that would have done very little to curb what the mayor cited as the city’s “obesity epidemic.”
Though drinking too much soda has been proven to cause negative health effects, it is just one of many contributors to obesity. Obesity is a result not of one too many extra-large Dr Peppers, but also of generally poor eating habits and an overall lack of exercise.
With this in mind, it is clear that it is up to the individual to decide whether they will allow themselves to become or remain overweight, from drinking too much soda or otherwise.
Bloomberg’s proposed ban seems to ignore this. In fact, instead of compelling individuals to take health into their own hands, the measure shifts the blame for obesity to the establishments that sell sugary drinks, casting the government as the omnipotent guardian of people’s health.
This trend toward government involvement in all aspects of life is dangerous and counterintuitive to personal responsibility. In an age where people blame their ills on anything and anyone other than themselves, Bloomberg’s proposal only contributes to the trend by treating citizens like children incapable of making their own decisions.
Not only is such a ban an unjust and absurd intrusion of government power on individual freedom of choice, it is just another example of misdirected resources and government ineffectiveness. In a city plagued by such serious problems as poverty and inadequate public schools, Bloomberg’s focus on banning the sale of large sugary drinks is a complete waste of effort and money.
Instead of focusing on whether a person buys an 18-ounce Coke at the movies, maybe the city should concentrate on using its resources to reduce crime and provide better educations for kids. Unfortunately, Bloomberg’s vow to appeal the decision means that even more of the city’s money will go toward legal fees instead of back to New Yorkers.
A man interviewed by CNN on the streets of New York could not have summed it up any better: “I don’t care how much soda people drink — there are bigger issues in this city than people drinking sugar … I mean, look around us. Isn’t there more that our mayor can concentrate on than sugar?”
That the average citizen can recognize the flaws of such efforts by Bloomberg provides hope that the court will uphold its reversal of the ban. At the end of the day, the ban would bring nothing other than a dangerous expansion of government power while de-emphasizing the need for people to make smart decisions for themselves.
Sarah Cueva is a junior majoring in Middle East studies and political science. Her column “Homeland” runs Wednesdays.