Many so-called scholars at Cato – in their attempts to prevent governments from acting – have publicly argued against many proposals to reduce the impact of sugary soft drinks on obesity by a variety of means, including banning such drinks from vending machines, increasing the taxes on them, or limiting the size of the containers in which they can be sold. Interestingly, few have offered any other approaches to the problem, and many apparently have never tested their arguments in real legal or regulatory proceedings, preferring instead to be critical of those who participate – and often are successful in – such proceedings
Cato spokesman are usually joined in their opposition by the major large bottlers of sugary soft drinks and other large food companies, and both face only limited opposition from those seeking action about the cost and impact of obesity. So it's no surprise that they expressed outrage and indignation upon learning that undergrads at a DC-based university will be writing to local legislators asking their representatives to do something about one of the major causes of the current epidemic of obesity, especially among children.
Some students are expected to suggest the adoption of new laws like the one about to go into effect in New York City – and to considered in D.C., Cambridge, Mass, New York State, and perhaps elsewhere – to limit the size of containers in which the sugary soft drinks can be sold. Other students may, in the alternative, suggest added taxes, keeping sugary sodas out of vending machines, or other approaches.
For more than forty years, public interest law professor John Banzhaf has been requiring his law students – whom the media have dubbed "Banzhaf's Bandits" – to bring legal actions as part of his law school class in Legal Activism (Public Interest Law).
The results have ranged from bans on smoking in many public places, to a series of so-called fat law suits which have caused major changes and forced the companies to pay over $20 million, safety standards for school buses, labeling of fat and calories on most packaged foods, improved warnings on birth control pills, new legal rules allowing environmental groups to attack proposed projects, smoke detectors in airplane lavatories, "corrective advertising,"
Now Banzhaf is carrying his activist philosophy one step further, and requiring students in a food class he taught to lobby local legislators regarding obesity and other food-related problems. He provided them with numerous examples where students have successfully lobbied for local legislation, and gave them some practical tips on how to be effective, and fight the opposition from bottlers and their supporters.
Banzhaf notes that the students will not have to lobby in favor of the NYC-type ban on large servings of sugary soft drinks. Rather, they may also lobby for other ways to deal with the major impact sugary soft drinks have on obesity, or they can ask legislators to address any food-related problem: e.g., food safety, food availability, food regulation, etc. So, for example, students could also ask legislators to reduce limits on the sale of items from food trucks, cut back on unnecessary food-related regulations, establish fast-food-free zones around schools, etc.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
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