Drinking soda, like most things, is fine in moderation. But moderation isn’t exactly one of our strong suits in America, where super-hyper-mega-sized portions are available at every chain restaurant. Former Mayor Bloomberg famously crusaded against the ubiquitous sugary soda water, and De Blasio has taken up the same cause, attempting to get the City Council to place a 16-ounce limit on sodas, even after Bloomberg’s initial efforts got shot down in state court. And now, Brooklyn assemblyman Karim Camera has proposed a state law that would require every can of soda sold to have a warning, similar to the one found on cigarettes, informing potential consumers that soda consumption leads to health risks.
Camara told the New York Post that the labels are a “moral obligation” and a rebuff to the soda industry’s lobbying during the last round of New York vs. sugar water. “People in the beverage industry at the time said, ‘We don’t need a tax. We need education.’ My proposal calls for education,” Camara said.
Camara, like De Blasio and Bloomberg before him, focused on soda as one of the chief causes of the state’s obesity problem. his assumption is that picking up a bottle of Mountain Dew and having to read “SAFETY WARNING: DRINKING BEVERAGES WITH ADDED SUGAR CONTRIBUTES TO OBESITY, DIABETES AND TOOTH DECAY” will possibly put a damper on excessive soda consumption. Excessive soda consumption is definitely bad. Just check out the recent study linking regular soda drinking and premature aging. And perhaps it makes sense, because soda is one of those things that’s everywhere and aimed at children. And because it’s liquid, soda can be deceptively caloric. But it does seem a bit selective: Why not require a warning label on fried chicken and french fries and candy, too? Isn’t over-consumption of those things equally harmful?
The problem with measures like this proposed label is not that they don’t come from a good place, necessarily. Healthier kids, who can argue with that? The problem is that these are measures that fail to address the actual undergirding system that’s been propping up and encouraging the soda industry for years. You know, the one where the government has been subsidizing the production of corn syrup for decades, making things like corn syrup-sweetened soda and candy very, very cheap but fresh produce both scarce and, often, expensive? The label approach is blaming the consumers for something they have been conditioned to consume, not just by relentless Coca-Cola ads but by the way that the government has incentivized the agriculture industry. It all feels backwards, to make sure that a product is readily available and priced low enough that people can sop it up with glee, and then turn around and blame those people for indulging in it. But backwards is pretty much how lawmakers work these days, so we’ll see if Camera’s bill picks up steam.