The Soda Ban – A Case of Legal Propaganda?

Kamaria Muntu
14th September 2012, 17:50 GMT

Eric Moore of New York, New York USA sips on an “Extreme Gulp” beverage during a July protest against Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to ban extra large soda.

The US state of New York (specifically, The New York City Board of Health) passed a ban on 20oz (half litre) sodas and other high sugar beverages which prevents them from being sold at movie theatres, sports arenas, restaurants, delicatessens and even those little mobile food vans and carts; making the maximum size you can buy 16oz (about a quarter of a litre).

On the 13th of September this year, New York became the first US state to take such a bold stand against the powerful tide of obesity,

and many Public Health Agencies across the country and globe have applauded the decision to bar those extra 4oz’s, as obesity levels in children and adults has increased from

20% of the population to 35% in just 10 years.

The United States has been in public debate over how to stem the tide of its ever swelling American body mass. New York’s landmark decision marks the first  step of this magnitude to address the obesity issue.

Yet, this decision to ban an innocuously unhealthy comestible brings to mind another period in world history, where

Anti-Smoking during the Nazi regime. The ad depicts a mother with apple cider and a healthy baby, urging one not to smoke or indulge in alcohol. During the Nazi Regime, mothers were denied vouchers to purchase cigarettes.

a household staple was made intolerable by the government, and hence, culturally criminalized. The morally despicable systematic oppression and destruction of German culture and lifestyle through the enactment of anti-ethnic laws, secret police, surveillance, propaganda and the murders and criminal alienation of countless Jews, Roma peoples, Blacks, mentally and physically handicapped, homosexual, artistic, communist and dissident Germans and emigrants from the 1920s to 1945 is what we commonly refer to as the Nazi Era. And a more obscure fact is that during that Era, ethnic purity (to the Nazi mindset) was not only inherently genetic, but could also be achieved through the limitation of unhealthy consumption of alcohol, tobacco and meat products. Most specifically and well documented was Hitler’s campaign against cigarettes. The Germans (as well as those in many industrialized nations) smoked large quantities of cigarettes,  a common addiction indulged by a great majority.

Hitler cited cigarettes as “the wrath of the Red Man against the White Man…” while projecting propaganda and rhetoric that bolstered “the virtues of racial hygiene and bodily purity” through encouraging better diets and decreased alcohol intake.

Along with genocide and the destruction of an intellectual canon of logic; Hitler felt a healthy Aryan German population was one that fought the tide of toxification and maintained bodies as clean as their genetic codes. The essence of the Fuehrer’svision for the Aryan race was strong bodies, pure blood and uncompromising allegiance to the Nazi regime.

Parallels one might draw from New York’s decision may not be so obvious as during the Third Reich, when propaganda was disseminated to ensure that cigarette smoking was seen as synonymous with “impurity”, not just a bad habit.  As the following quote illustrates, the sincerity of this sudden interest in the health and well-being of Germans was a facade for  Eugenics and supremacist agendas.

“Professor Karl Astel, SS member and director of the Jena Institute for Racial Policy and Human Genetics as well as the Institute for the Struggle Against the Dangers of Tobacco, was renowned for striking cigarettes from students’ mouths, as part of his campaign against ‘racial deterioration’. Astel’s racial hygiene activities…included the intense harassment  of Jews, homosexuals, and the mentally subnormal, the proposition of a ‘preventive death sentence’ for antisocial elements considered to be potential murderers, and an active role in the establishment of the Nazi euthanasia programmes, in which over 70 000 people deemed to be mentally or physically defective were murdered”, this quote from a paper written in 1994 by George Smith, Sabine Strobele and Matthias Egger.

This is not to say there aren’t legitimate benefits to quitting smoking, because of course there are. The Third Reich funded research confirmed the association between cancer and cigarette smoke long before major tobacco companies in the 1980’s decided to admit under oath that their product could even cause a cough. German studies were suggesting the dangers of secondhand smoke as early as 1939 by Nazi scientists. We don’t have to be doctors or dieticians to recognise that a half litre of sugary corn syrup, known also in the US as the Extra Large 20oz drink is grossly unhealthy, and has been proven to exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions as well as potentially causing a host of new ones.

But one has to become slightly suspicious in a governmental climate that allows for the privatization of public schools; continues to reject universal healthcare; severely butchers social programs and repeatedly questions the right to food and shelter under international law… Why  such a sudden and demonstratively dramatic concern with the health and well-being of American citizens as to go so far as banning a (part of a) product?

And why on Earth would the inability to purchase 4 additional ounces of soda somehow stem the tide of preventable disease and the general ill-health of Americans – where more studies prove that fast food, long hours, lack of vacations, poverty and most importantly, lack of access to decent healthcare are more closely linked to increased deaths from preventable diseases than soda consumption?

In the United States of America, there are constant media conversations as to why African-Americans and Latinos are more obese than other members of American society, a simple fact that garners a tremendous amount of airtime.  So much so, that news media, online media, reality TV shows, daytime talk shows and newspapers such as the New York Times have speculated on People of Colour’s “need” to over-eat. And whether the statistics are true or not, the stereotype of the obese Black woman has been such a long-standing visual fixture in American television, print, and cinematic culture, that the average American would readily equate being overweight with Black people. This “Mammy” or “Fat Black Woman” trope articulated by social critics, the government and even modern-day researchers and scientists is the persistent attempt to validate a falsely separate cultural normative for Black women, and even socially construct a disposition for them, whereby they preference being overweight and consciously work at it

Most commonly, poor people are associated with being overweight, an assumption finding its way to political circles and campaigns. A newspaper in the 1980’s carried former First Lady of the United States, Nancy Reagan’s insensitive  comment that suggested women fighting for food-stamp rights could afford to lose some weight.

This is systematic propagandizing, and oftentimes the ban of somewhat innocuous food products heralds a coming fascism that cannot be ignored.

This isn’t the line to a music concert; these are people without medical insurance waiting around the block to see doctors at a free medical clinic at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles in 2011. Photo: AP

It seems America is taking a modern-day distancing approach in isolating the overweight to prove their point about bodily health. Hitler would display propaganda posters freeing lab animals while conducting vile and violent eugenics experiments on humans. It is not far-fetched that right-wing factions of the US could be using health to separate groups and create a criminalization of disease, giving average Americans a platform to blame people’s unhealthy habits for the shortcomings of Public Health officials who are greatly trailing the efforts of other Western nations and some developing nations as well, in ensuring the health of its citizens. This ban disregards the fact that the vast majority of obesity is caused by junk food, and by banning a drink in establishments that sell huge portion sizes of high salt, high trans fat ingredients, it may cause New Yorkers to feel that the drink was the worst part of the meal. To the contrary:

A 20oz drink is 240 calories, yet one fast food chain burger is anywhere from 400-550 calories (a quarter of the daily requirement) and are often sold as 2 for 1 deals (this isn’t even including the French Fries).

And nothing stops a New Yorker from getting two 16oz drinks ( 32oz of pop), which I dare say would make the beverage company more money, along with defeating the purpose of the ban in any practical sense.

It’s hard to say who exactly will benefit from this ban.

We’ll keep an eye out for those shrinking New Yorkers.

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