If it hadn't already been banned from the state in 2010 for its potent mixture of caffeine and alcohol, the original Four Loko would be safe from the law despite (a) boasting some 60 grams of sugar; (b) weighing
in at a massive 23.5 ounces; and (c) containing the alcohol content of three to five beers and enough caffeine to fill three to four
cans of Coca-Cola. That's because, at 12 percent ABV, Four Loko is considered a malt beverage, not a soft drink. Since nothing's changed about the new Four Loko except that it's now gone caffeine-free to comply with an FDA mandate, we can assume that Four Loko redux would be exempt from Bloomberg's ban.
Speaking of Four Loko, the drink's genre-defying characteristics pose a thorny problem for Bloomberg. The mayor's ban clamps down on sodas, but exempts fruit juice. How would the law deal with a beverage that claims to be both? This week, Taco Bell unveiled its latest concoction -- a blend of Mountain Dew and orange juice the
company is marketing as "Mountain Dew AM." (The "A.M." stands for
"morning," as Taco Bell is positioning the drink as a breakfast item.) Does Bloomberg consider this beverage a fruit juice -- which would exempt it from
the ban -- or a soda?
With so many awful-for-you beverages that'll wind up slipping through the cracks, you might start to wonder, "what's the point?" especially when much of
the reaction to Bloomberg's proposal so far has been one of libertarian outrage.
In the mayor's defense, if it gets consumers to commit to healthier
choices, the new measure could potentially go the way of the citywide smoking ban -- accepted,
if not universally welcomed. But at least one major difference stands between the stricture against smoking and the sugary drink ban: while those who consume sweet soft drinks are only
harming themselves, smokers pose a health risk to even non-smokers in the vicinity via second-hand inhalation. From an ethical standpoint, the smoking
ban is on much firmer ground, even though both cases involve matters of personal choice.
The case of cigarettes may be instructive in a different way, though. We've already learned that aggressive labeling can effectively deter people from buying
cigarettes. Canada and other countries have tried it. So what would happen if Bloomberg went after drink labels instead of swearing off sales of the
beverages themselves? The approach could take different forms. One way to do it would be to slap sugary drinks with large textual warnings about obesity.
Or you could show an image of a diseased heart. However you do it, an alternative like that could get Bloomberg the public health results he's looking for
without taking anything away from people.