Here we find ourselves again at the intersection of “nanny state” and “public health crisis.” Next week, the New York City Board of Health will vote on whether to enact Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to largely ban the sale of jumbo-sized sodas and other sugary drinks in the city (“jumbo” being defined as larger than 16 ounces). The mayor has billed it as an effort to curb the burgeoning obesity epidemic afflicting New York and pretty much the rest of the country.
Although the vote is anything but suspenseful (the three-term mayor has appointed all the board’s members, so their votes are an expected lock), Bloomberg is continuing to build support for the ban, according to the Washington Post. It’s no surprise that a number of physicians are on board; now it comes as little surprise that big-name diet companies like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig have come out cheering the mayor’s soda slim-down.
“There has been a lot of discussion about obesity, but little action, which is why we at Weight Watchers support what this administration is doing to help New Yorkers live healthier,” David Burwick, president of Weight Watchers North America, told the Post.
Whether those New Yorkers want the help is another question. A recent New York Times poll found that an overwhelming number of city residents (60 percent) think the ban is a “bad idea,” suggesting that the mayor’s efforts to make drinking a Big Gulp something of the social equivalent of lighting up a cigarette on a preschool playground may have backfired.
At root here: The billionaire mayor, who spent millions of dollars of his own money to finance his campaigns, papering the city with glossy ads, seems to have lost the PR war. Bloomberg would appear to have a legitimate case, summed up succinctly as: “Hey, listen, the city has to spend tons of taxpayer money each year treating the health effects of obesity, so we should be able to try to do something about it.” But he’s been outgunned by the beverage industry, which has spun the issue of the government restricting your access to a 32-oz. Dr. Pepper into one that Patrick Henry no less would have laid down his life for.
To wit, the website for “New Yorkers for Beverage Choices.” With a name like that, it has to be grassroots coalition, right? (“NYBC”—it doesn’t even form a sassy acronym.)
But that ad-hoc, power-to-the-people impression is quickly belied by the site’s polish, as slick as your average political campaign commercial. Visitors are greeted with a pop-up window that declares: “We don’t need bureaucrats telling us what beverages to buy!” And while a counter on the home page touts more than 230,000 supporters and 2,000+ coalition members, a list of those “members” is telling.
Click on “Who We Are,” and you get an alphabetical list in tiny type of seemingly mom-and-pop places like Bleeker St. Pizza and 5th Ave. Deli. But buried among those are names like the American Beverage Association, Coca-Cola Refreshments and McDonald’s.
We’ll guess that membership fees to NYBC are on a sliding scale.