Should We Put a Lid on It?

Mitch Morrison, Vice President of Retailer Relations

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The Mayor of Moderation took a midsize gulp and wanted us to swallow with him.

Pop, soda, carbonated soft drinks— whatever term you use to describe Coke, Pepsi and the slew of other thirst quenchers—is now Public Enemy No. 1.

New York City’s top dog, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had successfully pushed smokes out of the city’s parks and trans-fats from its restaurants’ kitchens, is now dropping the straw on large sodas and other sugary drinks.

Specifically, he proposed banning beverages in excess of 16 ounces from restaurants, movie theaters, street vendors and more. C-stores, such as 7-Eleven (the most prominent c-store chain in the city), would not be touched—for now. So rest easy, Big Gulp. And diet sodas, along with dairy drinks and fruit juices, is also off the mayor’s sin list.

Still, the whole thing leaves an unpleasant taste.

For Republican-turned-Independent Bloomberg, the nanny state is about fighting obesity, no doubt a legitimate cause. “Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’ ” hizzoner said during an interview reported in The New York Times.

Bloomberg furthered his attack dur­ing an interview with ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer. “In New York City, smoking deaths are down to 7,000 a year from something in the 20s. Obesity deaths are at 5,000 and skyrocketing. … Obesity will kill more people than smok­ing in the next couple of years.”

Ye s , the mayor—who enjoys favorable ratings from New York Republicans and Democrats alike—is right: Obesity is a serious issue, as are the growing numbers of diseases such as diabetes and others associated with bad diets and lack of exercise.

So why is the mayor wrong on this? The core of our country’s problem is not soda. It’s our diets and our lack of physical fitness, the lack of parental supervision over how our kids eat, and our proclivity for fast food as a mainstay as opposed to a treat.

“The New York Ci ty He a l t h Department’s unhealthy obsession with attacking soft drinks is again push­ing them over the top,” Stefan Fried­man, a spokesman for the association, recently told the media. “The city is not going to address the obesity issue by attacking soda because soda is not driv­ing the obesity rates. In fact, as obesity continues to rise, CDC data shows that calories from sugar-sweetened bever­ages are a small and declining part of the American diet.”

While many challenge Friedman on the facts, there is a bigger issue at play: the appropriate role of government in regulating the products we consume. Is it OK for school districts to kick out soda machines in favor of juice dispensers? Is there a difference between restricting what takes place in public places vs. our private businesses? And if not outright banning certain beverages, what about imposing sugar taxes?

But if Bloomberg is overstepping, what about our industry? Do we have any moral responsibility to control what we can control? Our fountains pour tremendous profits into our cups. But let’s be honest—this isn’t the merry verse, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

We’re talking lots of sweetness in our soft drinks. A typical 12-ounce can of soda contains eight to 10 teaspoons of sugar. A 64-ounce bladder buster is busting more than just your kid’s sweet tooth. The precipitous rise in diabetes in this country is real, and soft drinks are, by numerous accounts, a key contributor. I personally saw it play out when both my parents died prematurely due to diabetes-related illnesses. For them and our household, it was soda more than snacks and sweets; that was our addiction.

No, I don’t agree with Bloomberg. I don’t want government telling me what size soft drinks I can and cannot sell.

At the same time, just because I’m allowed to sell a half-gallon beverage of sugar doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

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