By Lindsay F. Wiley
The headline on The Eagle’s Nov. 1 cover, “D.C. May Ban Sugary Drinks,” grossly misrepresents the position of D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh and other elected officials in the District who have voiced support for a soda tax or portion regulation. Neither the New York City portion rule, nor the proposals discussed by the elected officials quoted in the WTOP report on which Ms. Sandoval’s article relies, “bans sugary drinks.” The New York City portion rule, which Cheh and other elected officials have said might be a model for a future proposal in the District, prohibits food service establishments from serving sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces (a size that was considered “large” by most establishments, and which Coca-Cola once advertised as serving three people).
The proposal introduced by Cheh last year would have imposed a modest sales tax on sugary drinks. These interventions, combined with increased disclosure of calorie information on menu boards and campaigns to raise awareness about the health risks associated with high consumption of sugary drinks, are aimed at prompting people to think more carefully about the amount of soda they want to consume. Neither intervention prohibits consumption of soda in any amount that the customer desires.
The fact that these interventions do not significantly restrict consumer choice does not, however, mean that they are ineffective. Default portion size has an impact on consumption because we tend to drink what’s in front of us, often without realizing just how much we’re consuming. The measure is aimed at reducing this kind of unintentional overconsumption while still allowing those who truly want to consume four servings of a sugary drink with no nutritional value in one setting to do as they please.
Lindsay F. Wiley
Assistant Professor of Law, Faculty Director, Health Law and Justice Program
American University Washington College of Law