by Lorne Gunter
Call them the Eat-Your- Peas Brigade or the Something- Must-Be-Doners, people so convinced of the superiority of their own moral compasses and lifestyles that they hector their fellow citizens — endlessly — on how to improve their habits. Increasingly the EYPBs and SMBDs also advocate laws and regulations to save us from our cravings and vices.
Chief among these holier-than- thou prigs is New York mayor Michael Bloomberg who two weeks ago proposed banning “supersized” soft drinks from his city’s restaurants, movie theatres and sports venues.
Bloomberg and the other banners are the new Temperance Leaguers, the new Prohibitionists.
Yes there is an obesity problem in North America. And no doubt soft drinks have contributed to the growing rotundity of our midsections. But that does not justify these new Puritans calling on government to use its coercive power to make us behave more healthily.
Governments have no business attempting to con-t rol personal decisions, even poor ones. Nonetheless, expect Canadian special interest groups and politicians to demand limits on sugary beverages here, too.
Never mind that Bloomberg’s ban has so many holes in it that it will never achieve a thing. Once the new Crusaders have taken up a cause there is no dissuading them with reason.
No evidence that handheld cellphones in cars are any more dangerous than hands-free ones? Never mind, ban the handheld ones. Not true that plastic shopping bags pose any more of an environmental threat than a thousand other freely available commodities? Doesn’t matter. The bags have become such a source of aggravation to the SMBDs that they must — must! — go.
It’s the same with NYC’s limitations on large soft drinks.
First of all, the proposed regulations are not only on “super-sized” drinks. They would apply to any drink larger than medium or “regular.” Mayor Bloomberg has asked his city’s Board of Health to forbid the sale of soft drinks larger than 16 oz. (454 ml). The 591 ml plastic bottles would be banned, as would “venti” coffee-based drinks with plenty of sugar.
But there would be no ban on the sale of two smaller drinks containing the same volume of liquid at the same price as a single, larger drink.
Nor, curiously, would convenience stores be forbidden from selling drinks such as the “Big Gulp.”
Since corner stores sell far more of the super-sized pops than any other vendors, Bloomberg’s plan is meaningless. If it achieves anything, it will only be to drive customers from fast-food joints (which the ban would cover) to 24/7 quick-stops. It is unlikely to have any impact on consumption or personal health, which is supposed to be the whole point.
And pointless infringements on personal responsibility and choice in the name of some symbolic victory for sanctimonious moralizers are especially obnoxious.
Prohibition of alcohol didn’t make people teetotallers. It didn’t reduce public drunkenness or alcoholism or shattered lives, as advertised. Ditto with laws against recreational drug use. Both only emboldened organized crime and expanded aggressive police tactics.
The only effects greater food regulation will have will be greater power for bureaucrats and even less personal responsibility as more people come to rely on government to tell them what to do.
Expect none of these flaws with bans to discourage the health zealots eager to save us from ourselves. It won’t matter, either, that Statistics Canada reported that Canadians consumption of soft drinks declined 30% from 2000 to 2010, even as obesity rates rose.
The great social critic H.L. Mencken once wrote, “You know the type … Give him Prohibition, and he launches a new crusade against cigarettes, coffee, jazz, and custard pies.”
That’s the mentality we’re up against.
Categories: Contributor Columns