New York Mayor's Beverage Restriction Calls For More Than Our Complaints

June 6, 2012
New York City Mayor Bloomberg set off a firestorm last week with his plan to ban large-size sugary beverages in restaurants and other venues.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg set off a firestorm last week with his plan to ban large-size sugary beverages in restaurants and other venues. Vending operators might be grateful that vending machines have so far been spared. But the issue Bloomberg raises goes well beyond the confines of his particular proposal. Similarly unreasonable rules have been proposed in numerous jurisdictions nationwide. And the movement will continue, given the nation’s obesity crisis. It is an area of particular concern for the food and refreshments industry.

The reaction to Bloomberg’s proposal have focused on its most immediate ramifications: restrictions on individual choice and lower sales for affected businesses. This is natural, but it misses the bigger picture.

Bloomberg’s proposal, and others like it, is a symptom of exploding health care costs that are damaging our economy in ways all of us can feel. It is a problem that both government and private industry have yet to address sufficiently.

Vending and refreshment service operators are affected by the nation’s health care crisis as much as anyone and more than most.

While vending operators await the federal government’s final calorie disclosure rules, every vending and refreshment service operator has already paid (and will continue to pay) for increasing health care costs in the form of higher health insurance premiums.

Vending and refreshment operators also foot the bill in another way. Health care costs are one of the biggest reasons (if not the biggest) that our industry’s customers refrain from adding employees, thereby preventing growth in location populations.

Health care costs continue to grow due to advances in medical treatment, an aging population, and an increase in indigent cases that health care providers are forced to cover. Government health insurance perpetuates the problem by saddling employers with higher costs, thereby reducing their ability to hire people, causing more people to need government health care.

Hence, Bloomberg’s proposal challenges us to look at the bigger picture. In commenting on Bloomberg’s action in this week’s Wall Street Journal, editorialist Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. astutely noted that the government did not begin infringing on personal decisions until the government (i.e., the taxpayer) began assuming the rising cost of health care.

The legal and ethical question Bloomberg raises is the individual’s right to choose versus the individual’s right to force the taxpayer to pay the costs for the individual’s right to choose. Think about it. The same question has been raised about the federal health care reform law, the legality of which sits before the Supreme Court. (I will not go there, given my lack of legal expertise.)

No one welcomes Bloomberg’s plan. But our response has to go beyond complaining about it. All of us should understand the factors changing the world as we have known it.

Industry organizations should develop suggestions to reform health care. Fundamental questions such as what citizens can and should expect from government should be clarified.

There is a lot of work to be done. Professional resources are needed.

All of us must do more than complain.