The Daily Show is Cambridge's New Health Czar

It’s no laughing matter. Fear of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” is driving public policy in Cambridge.

At least that’s the impression whippersnapper Leland Cheung, a first-term City Councilor, gave when discussing his anxiety over limiting the size of sodas served in restaurants, an idea recently proposed by the city’s mayor to help curb the rising tide of obesity.

According to the Globe, “Cheung said he was befuddled to see the proposal because there has been such a backlash against the idea in New York City. Cheung said the soda ban in New York has been ridiculed in the media, and is almost a nightly subject of the political comedy program “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” on Comedy Central.”

Nothing like a healthy fear of comedy to make you fearful of health.

I’m not saying it’s a great idea to dictate or legislate what people are allowed to eat, chew, smoke, sniff, or guzzle down, but being wary of ridicule from a pack of comedy writers doesn’t strike me a good reason to break into a cold sweat over a proposed health initiative.

But fine, say Cheung and others don’t like the idea of NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s nanny-state Valhalla. It’s fairly well-documented that obesity — caused in part by a massive thirst for sweet, sugary drinks — makes up nearly 21 percent of this country’s medical costs. So why not do what we do for cigarettes and other health-related no-nos: tax the bejeezus out of it and line the city’s coffers with people’s overwhelming desire to mainline Big Gulps.

Take Richmond, California, for example, which proposes to tax businesses 1-cent per ounce for every sugary drink they sell. If passed on to the customer, experts, say, this price increase could radically curb consumption. A doctor in San Francisco, for instance, determined that “a nationwide penny-per-ounce soda tax would reduce consumption by 15 percent and would, over a 10-year period, prevent several million diabetes cases and nearly 100,000 heart disease cases, as well as saving $17 billion in medical costs.”

Want more data? The USDA found that a 20 percent tax-hike on sugary drinks could cause adults to lose nearly 4 pounds a year and children to shed 4.5 pounds a year.

At the very least, the idea gives people the freedom to keep doing what they choose. And, more importantly, it just might prevent Cambridge city councilor Cheung’s worst fears from coming true: