Free Refills, Absence Of Diet Drinks Make New York City's Soda Ban Little More Than A Band-Aid On An Epidemic

LOS ANGELES , October 3, 2012 () – I’m a lover of carbonated soft drinks. So on a personal level, I’m against the New York City Health Board’s recent decision to uphold Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, street carts and movie theaters, the first restriction of its kind in the U.S.

But personal feelings aside, even if this ban survives the inevitable legal challenges that the soda industry will no doubt pursue, there’s a simple reason why the ban—and similar such bans being considered by other cities in the country—won’t work:

Free refills.

In virtually every major restaurant chain in the country—whether it’s a quick-service, fast-casual, casual or fine-dining franchise—free refills on soft drinks (and increasingly sugar-filled fruit juices) are the norm. Additionally, more movie theaters are offering self-serve soft drink dispensers, bringing the concept of free refills to their establishments. So local governments can limit the cup size of sugary drinks all day long, but it will only amount to putting a band-aid on the obesity epidemic.

Also, the ban doesn’t apply to diet soft drinks. That in itself limits the ban’s effectiveness. When I was growing up, I had a weight problem, ballooning to 200 pounds by age 15, so I have personal experience with obesity. The key to fighting obesity is exercise. Yes, dieting is important, but too many obese people look to diet products—including diet soda—over exercise to combat their weight problem, even over-indulging in these products. So why doesn’t the New York City ban include diet soda as well if the idea is to combat obesity?

Frankly, it’s commendable that New York City is trying to combat obesity. Argue about free enterprise all you want, but there’s an obesity epidemic in this country and something needs to be done. But this ban is not the answer. Regardless of whether the ban holds up in court, solving this problem requires more than a band-aid.

Nevin Barich is the Food & Beverage Analyst for Industry Intelligence Inc. A lover of carbonated soft drinks, he feels that daily exercise—not banning large sodas—is key to fighting the U.S. obesity epidemic. He can be reached at

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