By Shane Young
In line with the recently proposed soda-related measures in New York City, Mayor Henrietta Davis of Cambridge, Massachusetts has requested that city officials consider a ban on “soda and sugar-sweetened beverages in restaurants” within the city. While it is not yet entirely clear to what extent Davis wishes to ban sugary drinks in restaurants (Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal in New York limits what drinks can be served based on the size and calorie amount of the given drink), she has justified her request by claiming:
“When people are served these gigantic portions of soda in bottomless cups, sometimes it’s just more than people are able to resist.”
The main worry here, of course, is the potential infringement on personal liberty. If I make the conscious choice to put one, two, or five Dr. Peppers into my body, who is the government to tell me otherwise? We also might worry about the economics of the issue. Perhaps my restaurant in Cambridge is known for its bottomless sodas, so much so that the bottomless sodas are the main reason why people visit my restaurant. If proposals like Bloomberg’s pass, the government has all of a sudden financially cut me out of what would have been a completely voluntary transaction between individuals and my business. It would seem, then, that I no longer own my business and my customers no longer own themselves.
That said, the problems of obesity and diabetes are undoubtedly serious issues that require our attention, perhaps more now than ever. Additionally, it may very well be the case that the inability “to resist” sugary drinks helps contribute to an overwhelmingly large portion of these life-threatening conditions. Yet even if this is the case, the solution should never be to punish those who drink sodas moderately on behalf of those who do not. Instead, we should promote, as opposed to punish, the lifestyles of those who drink sodas moderately and allow individuals the freedom to choose whether or not their own health is worth a change in soda drinking habits.
Shane Young is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank.