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A proposal to ban large sodas in New York City sparks debate

A proposal to ban large sodas in New York City sparks debate

15.8.2012 17:17

The so-called soda ban would be the first of its kind in the U.S.

The ban would not apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy based drinks, alcoholic beverages, or drinks with fewer than 25 calories per eight ounce serving. The ban would also not apply to sugary drinks sold from grocery stores or convenience markets. On July 24 there was a public hearing to discuss the issue, and a decision on whether or not to approve the ban will be reached by September 13. The ban is expected to be approved and if passed would likely go into effect next March.

The ban is intended to accomplish the dual purposes of reducing obesity rates in New York City and decreasing health care costs. Approximately 5,800 New Yorkers die from obesity related conditions every year, and according to Mayor Bloomberg $4 billion is spent annually on medical care for the obese. Proponents of the ban believe that reducing soda consumption is an important first step in the battle against obesity. At the public hearing to discuss the issue, Dr. Walter Willet, a professor at Harvard Medical School, asserted that “soda in large amounts is metabolically toxic.” The doctor continued and stated that in the attempt to curb obesity rates “soda is indeed the right target. It is dangerous. It’s not the only target, but it is by far the most single important target.”

According to critics the ban unfairly singles out sugary drinks as a cause of obesity. The critics also claim the ban will do little to curb obesity, while harming local restaurants and soft drink makers. At the public hearing City Councilman Dan Halloran voiced his disapproval of the ban, stating “this short-sighted measure will shut down production in movie theaters, pizza places, restaurants, coffee shops — even ice cream parlors will be affected by this absolutely ridiculous ban.” According to Halloran, asking these establishments to shoulder this negative effect would be unfair when “right next door the local 7-Eleven can still sell the supersized 120-ounce Big Gulp.”
The proposed ban is largely unpopular, and has received sharp criticism from soft drink makers, restaurants, and citizens who believe the government is overstepping its authority. A recent Rasmussen poll found the ban is only supported by 23% of Americans, while 63% of Americans oppose the ban, and 11% have no stance on the issue. The soda companies have framed the issue as a matter of freedom of choice. Coca-Cola (39,45 USD, 0,18%) issued a statement which asserted, “people of New York City are much smarter than the New York City Department of Health believes… New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this. They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase.”

This is not the first public health initiative undertaken by Mayor Bloomberg to meet with resistance. In 2003 the Mayor banned smoking in bars. He has also required fast-food restaurants to provide customers with the calorie totals of the items on their menus. Additionally, in 2008 a ban went into effect which prohibited restaurants from serving food with more than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. The smoking and trans fat bans initially engendered significant opposition, similar to the reaction which has developed in response to the proposed soda ban. When the trans fat ban was passed the restaurant industry called it “a misguided attempt at social engineering.” Yet the ban has led to a significant decrease in New Yorkers’ consumption in trans fats, which should improve the overall cardiovascular health of the city.

The ban is also not the first attempt to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks in New York. In 2010 a tax was proposed which would have established a one-cent surcharge per ounce when consumers purchased sugary drinks. The proposal spawned a vigorous public relations battle; since 2009 New York City has spent $2.8 million in advertising campaigns linking soft drinks and obesity, while soft drink companies spent $13 million in lobbying against the proposed tax. The soft drink lobbying campaign proved successful and the tax ultimately failed to pass. Yet the soft drink industry may have a more difficult time opposing Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban; the decision on whether to institute the proposed ban is made by the board members of the New York City Department of Health, and board members of the Department of Health are appointed by the Mayor. The soft drink companies could initiate a legal challenge to the ban if the proposal is passed and goes into effect.

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