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Boychuk: New laws can't solve every problem

A protest outside City Hall in Manhattan called

A protest outside City Hall in Manhattan called the " Million Big Gulp March" was organized in opposition to New York City Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to limit the size of sugary drinks. Dominic Inferrera of Queens is shown protesting with his drink and sign. (July 9, 2012) Credit: Linda Rosier

Those 64-ounce Big Gulps are ridiculous, aren’t they? But a funny thing happened on the way to Mayor Bloomberg’s 16-ounce, smoke-, trans fat- and sugar-free utopia. New York’s new beverage restrictions wouldn’t have touched those gargantuan tumblers because 7-Eleven is a grocery store regulated by the state of New York, not the city.

As New York Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling observed in his order blocking the city’s obnoxious soda ban, “the simple reading of the rule leads to...uneven enforcement even within a particular city block, much less the city as a whole.”

For now, New Yorkers will be spared the sight of Bloomberg’s health inspectors roaming the city with their 17-ounce measuring cups, threatening to levy $200 fines on violators of what Tingling rightly described as an “arbitrary and capricious” rule.

But it’s only a matter of time before another rule, less arbitrary, less capricious, comes along. The Bloombergs of the world cannot help themselves when it comes to helping the rest of us.

Oddly, many of the same people who lauded Bloomberg’s soda restrictions have loudly denounced another city initiative that sets no rules, levies no fines and requires nothing of businesses. It simply encourages children to think twice before having children.

The city has put up posters in subway stations and bus shelters that depict sad-faced toddlers stating the hard facts about teen pregnancy.

“I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen,” says one. “Got a good job? I cost thousands of dollars each year,” says another.

Everyone from the New York Times to Planned Parenthood has decried the ads as “judgmental” and “stigmatizing.” Yes. That’s the point.

If you want to change behaviors that have lasting and expensive consequences, whether it’s obesity or teen pregnancy, you don’t need a host of infantilizing new rules and regulations. You need only make the behaviors socially unacceptable.

A fat dose of stigma would do a world of good.

Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.