NYC Soda Ban Will Have Unintended Consequences

Soda Ban

The Board of Health in New York has approved Bloomberg’s suggested soda ban. This weekend while working in the yard, I remembered my high school science teacher teaching that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. What would be the reaction to this soda ban?

The Action: These are the details of the plan, as reported here.

Under the plan, all restaurants, fast-food joints, delis, movie theaters, sports stadiums and even food carts will be barred from selling sugar-sweetened drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces.

The limits will not apply to drinks sold in grocery stores, diet sodas, drinks that are more than 70-percent fruit juice, or that contain alcohol.

Dairy drinks containing more than 50 percent milk will also be allowed thanks to their redeeming nutritional qualities — though that’s little solace for Frappuccino lovers since the Starbucks treats contain far less milk than that.

The Reaction: Here are some things we might expect to see as a result of the soda ban.

1. Marketing Gimmicks

While working in the yard this weekend, I tried to think of ways I would handle the ban if I owned a restaurant in New York City. Maybe a restaurant sells a large diet soda but lets the customer get it himself; he could just get a sugary option instead. Maybe the large size on the menu would become two separate 16-ounce cups.

Maybe businesses will stress refills. Since sugary drinks can’t be sold in large cups, a meal will come with a free large soda. Maybe the large soda will have 3 drops of rum in it, since drinks with alcohol can be sold in large cups.

The possibilities are endless, but the fact remains that there are plenty of ways businesses can still offer unhealthy amounts of soda to their customers while complying with the new rules from the Board of Health. Prohibition doesn’t work, folks. It never has, and it never will.

2. Higher Food Prices

There’s a reason a large soda comes in such a large cup: the profit margin is huge. The cost for the upgrade on that value meal you just bought is almost all pure profit. Businesses aren’t going to just live with a smaller bottom line. They need revenue to match predictions. If a business can’t make the money it would have made from selling large sodas, prices of food will rise to compensate for the loss of soda revenue.

Bottom line: New Yorkers will be paying for the sugary soda, whether they get it or not.

3. Fewer Businesses

Businesses project revenue as they plan for operating costs. If their ability to meet revenue targets is impeded by government (in this case, the Board of Health), they’ll either employ fewer workers – in jobs that aren’t usually held by rich people – or, if revenue still can’t meet targets, businesses will close.

I have no doubt that the Board of Health has good intentions with this ban and that it isn’t intentionally trying to perpetuate a big brother government for the purpose of dictating the minute details of citizens lives. They want New Yorkers to intake less sugar. But this effort, like all forms of prohibition, won’t work.

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