Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

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March 19, 2013

Bloomberg's soda folly

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ban on large-size sodas at certain establishments, colloquially known as the soda ban, is a lesson in how to make your cause look ridiculous.

Bloomberg hoped the ban would spark a nationwide crackdown on sugary beverages. Instead, it became the subject of widespread mockery, inspired an instant-classic New York Post headline ("Soda Jerk") and got struck down by a New York judge this week as "arbitrary and capricious."

You could say that Bloomberg jumped the shark, except shark-jumping is associated with undue health risks that may burden public hospitals in the vicinities where it takes place and therefore should be banned in all coastal areas of the United States.

If the makers of "Schoolhouse Rock!" were to illustrate the process whereby New York almost got its soda ban, it would be very easy. Mayor Bloomberg tells the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene what to do, and it does it. No fuss or muss with the city council, the elected body accountable to the people of New York that is supposed to write laws.

Bloomberg managed to craft a measure with the least possible bang for the diktat. It forbids drinks over 16 ounces at restaurants and delis, movie theaters, and food carts. It doesn't ban them at supermarkets or convenience stores, where people buy most of their soda. It leaves 7-Eleven and its unapologetically gut-busting Big Gulp unmolested.

In other words, the soda ban is like prohibiting cigarette advertising - except for Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man. Or like forcing top-shelf New York restaurants such as Per Se and La Grenouille to no longer serve bottles of wine as a way to fight alcoholism.

Bloomberg is a true believer in the lifesaving consequences of his health agenda, and his smoking ban did indeed sweep the country. Yet his soda measure is so obviously ineffectual symbolism that it has a whiff of imposing his will for the sheer sake of it.

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