Mayor Michael Bloomberg is set to retire on January 1 of next year, after the New Year’s Eve ball descends upon Times Square one last time with Gotham under his watch.
People take up all sorts of wacky hobbies in retirement and Mayor Bloomberg is no exception. He is on a crusade to curb obesity by outlawing soda one city at a time.
And even despite Bloomberg’s very public failure to enforce his own ban on soda in NYC, the debate over restricting soda consumption continues to bubble up.
For example, San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra in August proposed an outlaw of the sale of sugary drinks on city property.
“We cannot stop the obesity epidemic,” City Councilman Ash Kalra stated in his proposal. “But as the city of San Jose, we can do our part by being socially responsible and accountable for the products we make available to San Jose residents at the facilities and centers we operate, as well as at events that we host.”
“Are you freakin’ kidding me?” replied a nearly dumbfounded Councilman Pete Constant. “Of all the things I’ve seen proposed here at City Hall, this is the craziest. It’s stupid. I come to work thinking about how to fix our city, not how to tell our residents to live their lives.”
It’s hard to argue with Constant’s logic. All issues, no matter how small, take up the public’s time and taxpayer’s dollars.
You would think that with cities crippled by unfunded pension obligations and struggling to bounce back from the Great Recession, non-starter issues like that of Councilman Karla’s would not even see the light of day.
Governments as large as the nation of Mexico would apparently disagree. Against the backdrop of a truly heinous drug war, the county is waging a bitterly-divisive legislative battle in considering a one-peso-per-liter tax on sugary drinks as a means to combat Mexico’s own obesity epidemic.
Guess who is inserting himself into the mix? That’s right: outgoing Mayor Bloomberg.
“Thanks to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto for taking action on the obesity epidemic & supporting a new tax on sugary drinks,” he recently wrote on Twitter.
You would think that President Enrique Pena Nieto—like Councilman Karla and other leaders of California’s cities—would have more pressing issues to solve than advocating for a soda tax, particularly when such bans and taxes before have been rejected outright by the voters or failed in practice and were soon repealed.
But perhaps Councilman Karla simply just doesn’t read the news. When it comes to our beverage options, restricting consumer choice hasn’t proved popular here in California.
On May 23—just three months before Karla’s initiative—CA State Senator Bill Monning’s (D-Carmel) proposed soda tax died in committee. Similar to other efforts across California, SB 622 would have instituted a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages throughout the Golden State.
Further, twice in California has a citywide soda tax been proposed as a means to curb obesity and twice in California have voters proceeded to defeat the ballot measure in question.
In 2012, 67% of voters in Richmond voted against a ballot initiative to levy a citywide tax on soda while El Monte’s measure was defeated by a whopping 76.5%.
Still others like Karla believe it is necessary to act upon America’s obesity crisis. A noble cause, no doubt.
However, to say that soda is the root cause of our nation’s struggle with weight would be wildly-misleading. Singling out soda as the cause of America’s expanding waistline would be akin to laying blaming for your exorbitant credit card debt on your habit of purchasing a daily $4 triple-whip, mocha-frap pick-me-up at the coffee shop down the street. Sure, it may play a role in your financial decline but so have the routine beers with coworkers after work, your impeccably-stylish wardrobe and that brand new car you bought two years ago.
Likewise, obesity as an epidemic must be examined holistically if we want to truly make a dent. It is the summation of one’s lifestyle choices that cause obesity, not simply one’s soda consumption that tips the scale.
California is often considered a leader when it comes to healthy living. We are immensely proud of this fact and should be.
Unfortunately, this stigma—combined with our need to legislate behavior even at the most local of levels—fuels a fervor, albeit an incredibly misguided one, for laws like that of Mayor Bloomberg.
Bloomberg’s tirade against obesity comes at the expense of both personal liberty and the limited resources at the disposal of our city’s leaders. And given the number of problems that present an imminent threat to the stability of our state’s cities, now is not the time to implement “do-gooder” policy that has proven unpopular, ineffective and misguided.