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Hold The Ice: Rhetoric Gets Hot Over New York's Big Soda Ban

A New York subway ad from Zevia soda company, supporting the mayor's ban.
Jason Decrow
Invision for Zevia/AP Images
A New York subway ad from Zevia soda company, supporting the mayor's ban.

Ever since New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he plans to ban big sodas from the streets of New York City to address the city's obesity problem, drink companies, soda fans, and libertarians have been wanting to treat him like a Glee kid and give him a big Slushee in the face.

Well, they are getting their chance today, at least in theory. The New York Board of Health just launched a public hearing on the proposed ban this afternoon, but many haven't waited until today to make their feelings known.

Beverage companies and other businesses are circulating petitions, asking people to take action against government intrusion in our lives. There are subway ad campaigns, rallies, radio ads and movie trailers urging opposition to the "nanny state," and a few that support the ban.

Reaction from all sides has veered toward the hyperbolic. A blog post by the author of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, a book about government anti-smoking campaigns, urges taking it down a notch, but not giving up:

"No one is claiming that a ban on large sodas represents the 'End Times' and no one thinks anyone is going to 'perish' if they can't have an extra-large Mountain Dew. But what are defenders of liberty to do if not defend small liberties? In a liberal democracy, defending small liberties is the only thing civil libertarians should have to do."

Honest "TeaEO" Seth Goldman pleaded for small business consideration and common sense to prevail in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

But nutrition expert Marion Nestle suggest in her blog Food Politics today that it rings a little hollow.

"Only one thing wrong with this. Mr. Goldman must have forgotten to mention that since March 2011, Honest Tea has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Coca-Cola," she says.

The mayor himself is defending the move. This morning, he tweeted this chart, showing that when offered larger portions, people take more. The portion-sized argument has been proven at places like Cornell University, where they study these things a lot.

But experts disagree about whether just banning sodas is going to have a big impact on fat or change peoples' drinking habits.

According to Crain's, the health department has received "more than 15,000 letters or comments in favor of the ban and just 600 opposing it."

Despite the drama, there's very little suspense surrounding the big soda ban. The board, appointed by the mayor, is expected to approve the proposal officially in September.

P.S.: If you need the blow-by-blow from the meeting, The New York Times' City Room is live blogging.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

April Fulton is a former editor with NPR's Science Desk and a contributor to The Salt, NPR's Food Blog.