Tuesday March 19, 2013

Casey Seiler of the Albany Times-Union writes below ("When smoke got out of your eyes") of the days when public smoking bans were regarded as nanny state intrusions. Today they are popular for protecting health in the long term and more immediately for sparing non-smokers watery eyes and the stench of burning tobacco. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ban on the sale of sugary drinks in cups of more than 16 ounces in city food establishments was also attacked as nanny state over-reach, but it would have had health benefits had the American Beverage Association not succeeded in defeating it in court this month.

The deep-pocketed ABA has been going the litigious route to fight the efforts of cities and states to address one of the major sources of America's huge obesity problem. New York City didn't ban sugary drinks, it simply required patrons to fill their 16-ounce cups four times rather than purchase an immense 64-ounce cup of water and sugar. The ban would have undoubtedly inspired people to purchase less of what their bodies don't need. The ABA went to court to protect the right of New Yorkers to drink their product to excess, and unhappily triumphed.

In the tortured logic of Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Milton A. Tingling, the fault of the New York City ban was that it wasn't ambitious enough, as it didn't apply to convenience stores. Mayor Bloomberg was pursuing a measured approach that once enacted -- and after initial grumbling café and restaurant owners were poised to abandon their large cups -- could have been extended to other establishments. The judge didn't challenge the ban on its merits, which are many.

The nation's obesity problem is costly, as the treatment for diabetes, heart disease and other related problems jacks up health care costs for everyone. The ABA declared comically after the ruling that it looked forward to "collaborating with city leaders" on solutions, but if it was serious about addressing the problems it generates it would get out of the way and get out of the courts.