New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on extra-big sodas has turned into a battle of health versus freedom.
A group called NYC Liberty HQ and its supporters protested the ban at a “Million Big Gulp March” near City Hall on July 9, arguing that prohibiting the drinks unfairly restricts personal freedoms, WNYC reported. While 500 or so New Yorkers were expected to attend, the event only drew a few dozen people.
In May, Bloomberg proposed a ban on sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in regulated food establishments such as movie theaters and sports arenas. Diet sodas, fruit juices and a few other drinks are exempt from the rules, and the ban would not apply to grocery or convenience stores.
The soda industry quickly reacted to the potential restriction, spinning it as a personal liberties issue. Much of the same rhetoric was used at the Big Gulp march by participants, who included business owners and local politicians, among others.
On the same day as the march, Bloomberg’s office issued a hefty press release with statements from 73 well-known figures and organizations supporting the measure, including director Spike Lee, chef Jamie Oliver and doctors and nutrition professors.
“If you want to kill yourself, I guess you have a right to do it,” Bloomberg said at a press conference before the protest on July 9. “We’re trying to do something about that...In New York City alone, we’re going to spend $4 billion dollars of your money to treat obesity-related diseases.”
Bloomberg has steadfastly stood behind his proposal, citing the link between consuming sweetened drinks and a greater obesity risk. More than half of adults in New York City are obese, The New York Times reports.
“If government’s purpose isn’t to improve the health and longevity of its citizens, I don’t know what its purpose is,” Bloomberg told CBS This Morning.
Ironically, Big Gulp drinks—for which the protest was named—are unlikely to be banned in Bloomberg’s measure passes. The massive soft-drink cups are sold at 7-Eleven, a convenience store, and thus might be exempt from the ban.
The soft drink proposal goes to public hearings on July 24, and a final vote by the Board of Health is due on Sept. 13.
“Every study shows that you will eat a very big proportion of whatever’s put in front of you,” Bloomberg told CBS News. “And if you have to make a conscious effort to go to another cup, you’re less likely to do it.”
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