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Sunday, March 10, 2013

How Does the New York City Soda Ban Affect Coffee?

Why do I Care about the Soda Ban in NYC?

I have never been to New York City, and I don’t drink soda.  So why do I care about the soda ban in NYC?  The ban affects coffee, and that’s something I care about…

Will the NYC Soda Ban Affect Coffee?

The soda ban in New York City, which goes into effect on Tuesday March 12, 2013, bans the sale of soda in servings of over 16 ounces.  This applies only to “regular” soda and not diet soda.  Coffee over 16 ounces is also impacted by the regulation if sugar is added.  It is then a sweetened beverage like soda and is regulated.  Most coffee shops and fast food restaurants will comply with the regulation by having customers add their own sugar and flavoring to coffee over 16 ounces.  Others may limit adding a certain number of packets to the coffee based on the size of the coffee.

20 ounce coffee cup with coffee beans in grinder in background
NYC Soda Ban will Affect Coffee over 16 oz with Sugar Added
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

What will this mean for coffee drinkers and their morning routine?  I see 3 likely ways coffee drinkers will deal with this starting Tuesday morning:
  1. If coffee drinkers want the convenience of having the barista add their sugar, they could order a smaller size- 16 oz or less.  I would anticipate few coffee drinkers would take this approach.  If you are used to drinking a 20 oz or 24 oz coffee, a smaller size simply will not do.    However some people will probably switch to either drinking one smaller coffee, or simply ordering 2 small coffees with the amount of sugar they like added.
  2. Another approach would be to order the same size coffee as usual, but drink it black instead of adding sugar.  Again, unlikely for most people.  If you are used to cream and sugar, it would be hard to suddenly switch to drinking black coffee.  I imagine some people may end up learning to drink black coffee.
  3. So that leaves option 3- add your own sugar at the coffee shop.  This will be somewhat inconvenient.  You’ll have to stop at a self-serve counter, take the lid off of your coffee, add sugar, stir, and put the lid back on.  Chances are there will be long lines in the mornings and frustration will run high at the sugar counter when supplies run out, etc. 

Will the NYC Soda Ban Lead to Less Sugar Consumption?

Overall, I think most people will end up drinking the same amount of coffee with the same amount of sugar, at least at first.  The new regulation will call attention to the health effects of consuming too much sugar.  That combined with the new inconvenience of getting sugar in your coffee may lead to less consumption of sugar in coffee over time.

44 ounce soda cup
Giant Soda- You wont get one of these in NYC
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Really the soda ban has minimal affect on the sugar supply in NYC- sugar will still be cheap and plentiful after the ban.  You can add it to drinks yourself, order multiple smaller drinks, or bring larger drinks from elsewhere.   The ban will have more of an impact on the demand for sugar in NYC.  If it is inconvenient to get large sugary drinks, people will find more convenient alternatives over time.

The soda ban in NYC reminds me of the smoking ban that went into effect here in Iowa a few years ago.  Smoking was banned in restaurants and bars.  Of course smokers and bar owners complained about this law, but it went into effect.  Smoking has also been banned at outdoor events such as football and baseball games.  I wondered how this would go over, but the smoking ban is effective- I haven’t seen it violated.

The smoking ban was enacted for health and safety reasons to protect employees at places like restaurants.  Does the government have the authority to regulate portion size of food products?  One example of government regulation of consumption is in the area of energy efficiency.  Automakers must maintain minimum fuel efficiency for vehicles across their fleet.  Light bulbs must meet energy efficiency standards and will likely lead to the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs in 2020.  So the government has a history of regulating the consumption of legal products for the good of the public.

It will be interesting to see:

  1. Will the soda ban changes sugar consumption in NYC?  
  2. Will public health improve in NYC after the ban is enacted?

I think sugar consumption in NYC will be reduced somewhat within a few months.  If public health does improve in NYC after the soda ban, I may see you at the sugar counter loading up your coffee in a few years…


The New York City soda ban of 2013 was called off at the last minute.  A court decision did not allow the ban to proceed as planned.

Copyright © 2013 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved. Coffee Maker Journal

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