How unrefreshing. The latest ammo lobbed at sugary drinks is a proposed warning label on cans and bottles letting the imbiber know he or she is about to down a product that might be dangerous to one’s health.
States and cities have tried, with various success in and out of court, to limit soda cup sizes and impose taxes on the beverages. The soda company giants have tried offering lower calorie alternatives and packaging them for mass consumption by replacing turnoff words like “diet” with “zero.” Schools have replaced vending machine staples like energy drinks and colas with water bottles.
What more do the health police want? Apparently, they want to leave no grain unturned in the battle of nutrition, particularly the alarming fight against childhood obesity. A new study actually said that obesity has surpassed drug abuse as the number one childhood worry. Maybe we should hand the children out some ephedrine-based pharmaceuticals. They’ll get hooked, get skinny and the do-gooders can go back to attacking a narcotic problem that while challenging is apparently easier to control than wrestling a sweet beverage out of the hands of the average human being.
Democratic California Sen. William Monning is aiming to combat this challenge with a proposal last week to require a warning on the front of all beverage containers with added sweeteners more than 75 calories per 12 ounces. The label — sure to invoke fear in the hearts of dentists and pediatricians everywhere would read: “State of California Safety Warning: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.”
Doesn’t that sound tasty?
Perhaps consumers will even read the warning before guzzling down the liquid and chucking the container in the recycling bin. After all, cigarette smokers put a lot of stock in those dire warnings on those packages right before they light up, too, don’t they?
The intent in the proposed label is laudable. Information is a powerful tool, particularly when slapped in large letters on a consumer product. Without such warnings, how would we dare know that freshly ordered coffee from fast-food restaurants is hot, that plastic Superman capes don’t enable the user to actually fly, that one should not use electrical appliances in the bath or that tobacco products and alcohol can have health ramifications?
Granted, not every person has the time nor inclination to pencil out how those fat and sugar and carbohydrate and sodium counts on the nutritional label translate into overall health. But neither should a consumer be absolved of all responsibility for personal upkeep. This isn’t some super-secret Chromium 6-infused water. This is soda. This is empty calories. This is a substance that in some forms can be used to scrub out toilets and remove corrosion from car batteries. This is not — or at least shouldn’t be — a shocking revelation.
On the flip side, a warning label might actually up sales in particular circles. Graphic cigarette packaging hasn’t been shown to make a sizable dent in that habit and in fact images like skulls and crossbones or toe tags might just add an unintentional “cool” component for the latest crop of rebels without a cause. The proposed drink label doesn’t go quite as far as photos of rotten teeth and muffin tops but that could be next although, admittedly, belly fat and dental decay isn’t as punk rock-chic as a death symbol.
If soda is the next to be labeled, the question is when does it end? Do we label candy bars? Anything with a trace of transfat or more than a pat of butter? Do we move on to other items that could lead to a sedentary life of excess pounds — video game consoles? TV? A soft spot for Paula Deen recipes?
Labels are one thing. Heck, maybe they’re even a starting point for that handful of the population that missed the sugar-is-the-devil memo. But in current climate of governmental hand-holding and overregulation, it’s no wonder the proposed bill is a bit hard to swallow.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com.