A 32 oz Soda & A Pack of Smokes

Real Soda is "Soda-licious"!

Real Soda is “Soda-licious”! (Photo credit: cobalt123)

Yesterday Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s laudable attempt to reduce the size of sugared beverages sold in New York City was shot down by State Supreme Court Justice Milton A. Tingling Jr.  If you want the best explanation — and the funniest explanation — of the soda ban, check out filmmaker Casey Neistat‘s 4-minute flick. If there were an Oscar for Best Satirical Short Film on the Politics of the Mayor’s Office of New York City, this would surely take home the gold.

I’ve noted on this blog in the past that I supported the proposal to ban sugared beverages larger than 16 ounces from the famous five boroughs.  And I still am.  Particularly after I saw a New York Times photo of protesters, yes, actual protesters, holding signs at a NYC pro soda rally.  Yes, this America. Yes, they have a right to rally for anything they want.  But really?  Soda?  There are about a hundred other things one could be protesting since the financial collapse of 2008.  But O.K. I get it. Their thing is soda.

They got me thinking, however, about that Other Great Ban that Mayor Bloomberg forced on New Yorkers not long after he was elected:  a smoking ban in restaurants and bars. I had just moved to the city of lights and was eager to do what all aspiring writers do in New York (at least in books and movies):  smoke and write in coffee shops. I was outraged that I wouldn’t be able to partake in this infamous rite of passage.  How could the act of smoking, legal in all 50 states, including New York, be illegal in New York City?  After all, there were non-smoking sections for those who didn’t like smoke.  I even sat in them whenever I shared dinner with non-smoking friends and family. They had their rights; I had my rights. As a smoker, I found it an assault on my personal liberties and considered, very briefly, taking to the streets.


SMOKING IN NEW YORK CITY BARS By Robert L. Huffstutter: another watercolor in a series about “We are smoking in a NYC Bar right now…” Image #2 (Photo credit: roberthuffstutter)

It wasn’t until I made my first trip back to Wisconsin that I dropped all late-night fantasies of organizing pro-smoking rallies. I had lived a good year under my mayor’s tyrannical fist — forced to smoke outside in freezing rain with a hand full of others who couldn’t sit through a meal without lighting up — and looked forward to a long smoke at the bar, an icy martini before me. I felt like a little kid waiting for Christmas morning. Stomach jitters. Twitchy fingers. Ahhhh. The joys of anticipation!

A friend and I were to meet at Nick’s, our favorite joint on State Street just a few blocks from the capitol.  It was a dark retro-art deco Greek dive, where the best gyros in town were sent up from the basement by dumbwaiter.  In grad school we used to smoke and drink for hours in the front booth, dreaming up ways to topple conservative cheesehead politics.  I arrived early with an unopened pack of Winston Lights, knowing I’d smoke the whole pack by the end of the night.  With a huge grin of anticipation, I threw open the door, the words “I’m home!” forming on my lips.

And then, it hit me. Anticipation’s old sidekick: disappointment.  A wall of smoke smacking the grin right off my face. The blue haze was so thick I thought I might need a pickaxe to make my way to the bar. My eyes stung. My nose burned. I felt green.

It had been so long since I’d been in a place where people could eat and drink and smoke, I’d forgotten what it was like. A year’s worth of wining and dining in smoke-free establishments had reconfigured my smoker’s brain.  I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

I wanted to run. Run all the way back to City Hall and plant a smokeless kiss on Mayor Bloomberg’s cheek.

English: New York Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg.

English: New York Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was at that moment that I realized, perhaps for the first time in my life, just how much my actions impact others. Even people I don’t know and never care to know.  For decades all those non-smokers had been breathing my cigarette smoke within the often small confines of diners, bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. I wanted to hire an airplane to fly my apologetic banner across the globe. I wanted to hold a pro-no-smoking rally.

Once again, New York City had risen to The Greatest City on Earth status, where it has remained ever since.

I can’t predict what will happen with the mayor’s soda ban. He says they’ll file an appeal, but he leaves office this fall, after serving three terms, and there hasn’t been much support in City Hall to ban super-sized syrupy drinks.

When someone buys a 32 oz soda, admittedly, the direct impact on me is far less than a line of smoke trailing off a glowing cherry. However, as Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health notes:

“Obesity has contributed to a stunning rise in chronic disease rates and health care costs. It is one of the biggest health crises the country has ever faced. The good news is that we have a growing body of evidence and approaches that we know can help reduce obesity, improve nutrition and increase physical activity based on making healthier choices easier for Americans. The bad news is we’re not investing anywhere near what we need to in order to bend the obesity curve and see the returns in terms of health and savings. ” (my bold)

It’s the bad news that Mayor Bloomberg sought to tackle. Let’s hope someone else will pick up the ball and run with it.

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© 2013 Lisa Rainwater