Monday, March 25, 2013

"Three Cheers for the Bloomberg Ban" - What??

In "Three Cheers for the Nanny State" (NY Times Mar 25) Sarah Conly argues for the Bloomberg Ban on large-size sugary drinks.  The argument is that the general public is just too uninformed or is just not able to fully research the data, or that we, as human beings, all suffer from the bias that bad things just won't happen to us.  In other words, we, as a species, are incapable of making proper, well analyzed decisions affecting our health and welfare.

One has to wonder if we are capable of deciding who to marry, what professions to pursue,  or when to seek medical help etc. - or are these decisions also best left in the hands of a more sophisticated and knowledgable party.    I am certain that such decisions may also affect the general health and welfare.

Though, admittedly, many drinkers of these large-sized sodas will remain quite healthy, Conly proceeds to equate a ban on these drinks to government-imposed bans on excessive highway speed.  After all, she says, many of us are capable of "safe driving" at 90 mph, so why should we "safe drivers" be limited.  It could also be argued that a ban on excessive alcohol intake, or a ban on cell phone use is a similar infringement on individual rights.  After all there are many who can drive very safely with excessive alcohol blood levels, and many who may drive with, perhaps, even greater caution when using a hand-held device.  Those bans are in place for the greater good, so why not ban large sugary drinks?

But there is a great difference between banning acts that affect others and banning activities that affect only the concerned individual.  We do not ban individuals from smoking - only in places where it affects the health of others.   The limitations on drivers clearly affect the health and welfare of those who share their vehicles and their roadways.

Children comprise a separate category.  It is assumed that children cannot be aware of certain dangers and are unable to make appropriate judgements.  The government does have the right as well as the duty to protect them from undue injury in the event that the parents neglect to do so.  Government may ban the sale of cigarettes to children - and even the sale of large-size sugary drinks to children.

But not to an adult.  Unless a large number of purchasers are not just drinking these sodas themselves, but are forcing others to drink them, they should not be banned.

An afternote.  With the ban now in place,  it is the duty of the banning agency to scientifically evaluate the data to determine whether or not this ban has achieved the desired result.  This is not as easy as it sounds.  Controlling variables is such a study will be difficult.

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