The past couple of months have not only seen the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show and the premier of Stanley Kubrick’s nuclear satire Dr Strangelove: or, How I stopped Worrying And Learned to Love the Bomb. It is also 50 years since the landmark report Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General, delivered on Saturday 11 January 1964, so as not to rock the stock markets but also to get maximum publicity in the sunday newspapers. Five years later cigaret ads were banned from radio and television. You’ve probably seen it featured on Mad Men.
This anniversary should make exhibitors ponder whether they too will soon find themselves on the wrong side of history when it comes to sodas and sugary drinks. The initial battle may have been won by Big Soda, but it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a long war ahead.
Defending ‘Freedom’ and ‘Choice’
NATO President John Fithian delivered a robust response to New York Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to ban large cup sizes of sodas, in his keynote at CinemaCon’13, devoting an entire paragraph of his speech to it:
Cinema patrons deserve the freedom to choose the food and beverages they want. That important consumer choice extends to serving sizes as well. I congratulate our associates at NATO of New York for their successful law suit against Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to regulate consumer choice. If a patron wants to splurge and have a big Coke, they can. Or if they want a healthier option, they can make that choice too, without the government choosing for them.
That’s five uses of the word “choice” in just one paragraph, as well as the all-important term “freedom“, in framing the conflict as one between individuals’ freedom of choice against government attempt to regulate and remove that choice. This argument won the day in the courts, as reported by FJI’s Concessions Editor Anita Watts:
The biggest news of late on drink size restrictions in New York City is that they were struck down again. On July 30, the First Division of the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division upheld the first ruling against the ban, saying the proposed law was unconstitutional. In March of this year, New York Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling had ruled that New York City could not enforce the ban. His decision came a day before the ban was set to be enforced. Tingling called it arbitrary, capricious and beyond the city’s regulatory powers.
Exhibitor’s won the battle in courts and with Mayor Bloomberg replaced by Mayor de Blasio, who is more worried about the size of income inequality in NYC than by size of servings of Pepsi, the battle might seem to be over (1). But far from it.
NY, CA, SF, VT, HI and Mexico
This month it has become evident that the battle has merely shifted from New York and gone east and south, where it looks likely to find more fertile ground. California is the first US state where sodas could be forced to carry warning labels, just like cigaret packets do, according to the Sacramento Bee.
California would become the first state to require warning labels on sodas and other sugary drinks under a proposal a state lawmaker announced Thursday.
SB1000 would require the warning on the front of all beverage containers with added sweeteners that have 75 or more calories in every 12 ounces. The label would read: “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”
Picture that facing movie goers lining up to buy concessions or on the side of the 16oz cup of soda dispensed in the multiplex, blocking part of the Avengers 2 promotion. But with the law proposal enjoying the backing of both the California Medical Association and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, it is hard to argue against it. Not least as it does not technically infringe ‘choice’.
This is not a lone law attempt to tackle soaring obesity levels in North America:
- Vermont proposed a similar law last year, which is currently held up in the Committee on Human Services;
- San Francisco is proposing a referendum to approve a tax on soda and other sweetened drinks at a rate of two cents per ounce;
- Similar proposal to SF’s were previously put forward in Richmond and El Monte (a Los Angeles suburb), but were defeated by the drinks industry;
- A Soda Tax was approved in Maine in 2008 but repealed two years later following “a major lobbying effort from the American Beverage Association. Voters in Washington state similarly reversed their legislature in 2010″ (link);