Mayor Bloomberg, butt out of our soft drink cups

By Dan K. Thomasson

Scripps Howard News Service

Published: Wednesday, June 6 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Pearl Ganotisi sips from her 24-ounce of soda drinks as she takes her meal in an American hamburger chain Friday, June 1, 2012 in Manila, Philippines. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks in restaurants, delis and movie theaters in the hopes of combating obesity.

Pat Roque, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

I'll drink to that! But if I'm in New York City it won't be out of a cup that exceeds 16 ounces if what I'm drinking is a sugary substance that will add to the nation's obesity dilemma. Mayor Michael Bloomberg says that is a mortal sin and he wants to prohibit the sale of these superdrinks.

That of course raises questions about how far a democratic government can go to protect the health and welfare of its citizens without encroaching on the freedom we cherish even to do foolish things that harm only ourselves. The U.S. Supreme Court says we have an individual right to bear arms so why can't we order a 24-ounce soda? What's the difference between the right to blow out our brains and not our bellies?

No one will dispute that we do a lot of things to excess, including eating and drinking too much. Has it strained our hearts, cost us millions in health care, shortened our lives and made us just plain look bad? Certainly it has. But isn't it our choice to resemble the Pillsbury Doughboy if we want to? That seems to me to be indisputable.

And by the way, who is going to police the distribution of oversized drinks — a whole new set of bureaucrats and law enforcement agents called the BGC (Big Gulp Cops)? To my way of thinking, Bloomberg has just created another expensive problem for his taxpayers. What if this silliness spreads to other major cities? I can foresee a revolt from every movie theater, convenience store, fast food restaurant and ballpark in America. Then we're talking real bucks and much mayhem, with straws as the major weapons.

It isn't far-fetched to imagine the high court slurping in anticipation of this one, a case that is bound to happen. A major consumer group already has taken full-page advertisements depicting Bloomberg as a "nanny" all frocked out in a light blue number. They're making it clear he hasn't heard the last of this. While the temptation is to treat this whole brouhaha as one of the least serious threats to our way of life in this world of turmoil, it would be wrong to do so.

The good mayor's move is a dangerous example of stepping all over our liberties in direct contravention of that big document hammered out by a group of guys who never heard of soda pop. Maybe that's a good thing. They might have decided to enshrine the privilege of gluttony in the Bill of Rights despite warnings from Ben Franklin and others that it could only lead to the ruination of our waistlines. Besides have you ever seen one of their dinner menus?

This all started when the courts said states could order drivers to buckle their seat belts, thus depriving them of the right to lay maimed or worse in the middle of twisted metal. The fact is that most citizens were doing that anyway, making those laws less a target of diehards who saw it as another case of over protectionism by Big Brother. But telling people they can't buy a soft drink of more than 16 ounces strikes me as something else altogether. It's one of those "butt out, buddy" orders that in the old days would have produced a fistfight on the floor of Congress.

I heard Michelle Obama on television the other morning conceding that all she could do to promote less obesity and better health was use her jawbone and her own example of feeding her children the healthiest food she could. The First Lady's trumpeting of a more nutritious diet has jostled the sensibilities of those who resent being told anything. But she was correct when asked if she could do more, she made it clear that in this free society the answer is no.

I've never had a 32-ounce drink, well not of soda pop anyway, but lots have and that's their prerogative. What's to stop them from buying two 16s and combining them into a left-over bigger cup? "Nanny" Bloomberg has his heart or maybe his stomach in the right place, but where our own is, is our business.

Email Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan@aol.com.

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