Banning (Bad) Pleasures

It’s time for Prohibition Round 2.

In recent years, legislation across the US has either heavily taxed or banned “unhealthy” consumption. The heavy taxes on cigarettes are perhaps the most well known and visible of such taxes. Now legislators are targeting food and drink. The first big step was the banning of trans-fat in New York City. The next legislative move I recall was when LA banned new fast food locations. As of late, the idea of a soda tax has seemed to gain more traction, as referenced in an article by Daniel Engber in Slate Magazine. While covering familiar territory, Egber’s article also considered a question I had not earlier: where does the line between drug and food lie? He quotes David Kessler, who calls these foods "hyperpalatable"and says that these kinds of food “alters the biological circuitry of our brains”, likening them to drugs. The War on Drugs is on*; is the War on Tasty Food and Drink next?

I am not arguing that these laws and taxes are not having the desired effect; they are certainly curbing consumption of cigarettes, trans-fat, etc. But this trend strikes me at best as insultingly paternalistic, and at worst racism or classism: the purchasers of the products being targeted are overwhelming working class and minorities. And I may be one to exaggerate slippery slopes, but this seems to be a very clear case of benevolent paternalism at its worse - where does it end? We started with cigarettes, then trans-fat, now soda. What next will be targeted for a tax or ban because it can be consumed in unhealthy amounts and lead to illness or death?

This may open a whole 'nother can of worms - but how can we resist these types of laws and taxes (if, like me, you think these laws are a bad idea) if universal healthcare becomes reality? If we are explicitly paying for others healthcare (and I realize we are already paying for much of the care in different ways but that’s a different issue) do we have a right to demand healthy lifestyles?

So what say you, Dopers? Do others agree with this legislation? If so, why? Do the stated benefits of improving health overwhelm the loss of dietary freedoms? Where does the line between food and drug lie? Is it right to demand a healthy lifestyle of others?

*For the record, I am not in favor on the War on Drugs either.

Technically, that’d be Prohibition Round 3. :wink:

I agree with the legislation. I don’t think paternalism is inherently bad. There are obviously many vices that most people would like to avoid or eliminate, but do not have the power to do so themselves. A government of the people should absolutely be allowed to vote these things into law. If you don’t like it, vote in someone who is pro-cigarettes and pro-trans fat.

I’m not really worried about the slipperly slope aspect because it seems that if I AM paying for someone else’s health care, why shouldn’t I be able to tell him to eat better? Between your rights and my money, I’m going to vote to protect my money. If it interferes with me, I’ll just force myself to adapt and eat better.


A recent study linked reduced heart attack rates to bans on smoking in public places.

Are trans fats actually pleasurable, or are they merely chosen by the industry for economical reasons and replaceable by something healthier without a loss of taste?

So … let me see if I understand this correctly. If I end up paying for someone else’s health care, I can tell that person to:

[li]Drive the speed limit and obey all traffic laws, because reckless driving can lead to an accident for which I will be required to help pay;[/li][li]Use every conceivable birth control method, because unprotected sex can lead to a baby or a medical procedure for which I will be required to help pay;[/li][li]Avoid any kind of sexual practice that I might find distasteful, because certain practices can lead to long-term health problems for which I will be required to help pay;[/li][li]Adjust the volume on your MP3 player, because playing music too loudly can lead to the need for hearing aids for which I will be required to help pay;[/li][li]Curtail your hobbies such as mountain climbing, parachuting, tennis, racquetball, squash, golf, running, or bicycling because those hobbies (and others) all carry with them the chance of injury for which I will be required to help pay;[/li][li]Find a job that does not have any stress in it all, because stress can cause serious health issues for which I will be required to help pay.[/li][/ul]

Seriously … where will it end? Given enough time, this kind of paternalism can become institutionalized, resulting in a total loss of personal freedom. I know it sounds like I am being extreme, but I am just taking the argument to its logical extremes.

I don’t think paternalism is the answer. History is full examples of where paternalism flat-out failed: slavery, colonialism, the relocation of Native Americans to reservations, and Prohibition spring to mind.

I hate to say it, but there was a time when people actually thought about their personal actions and took personal responsibility so as not to impact society negatively. Sadly, that time seems to have disappeared.

(As an aside, I am fully cognizant of the puns I put into that list! :D)

I am of two minds on this. Sometimes these measures can be appropriate, but they seem to be going to far right now. I break it down like this:

Ban or restrict something only in places or areas that affect others against their will. That would mean things like no smoking in government buildings or public facilities that force people into close proximity.

Tax something when use creates a public burden like excess litter or health care costs or when the unhealthy alternative is chosen just because it is cheaper. I would support a surcharge on unhealthy food that is used to subsidize healthy food. Taxes should not be used as punishment, but can be used to recoup societal costs or to help make health affordable in the short term as well as the long.


At what point do you draw the line? For example, should we outlaw kissing and all sex except for breeding, and require everyone to wear surgical masks and latex gloves when encountering other people? Human contact spreads disease after all, and treating those diseases costs money. The fact is, nearly everything that makes life worth living is potentially dangerous. And “it costs money” is not some all-overriding moral imperative.

In my view, smoking is a special case because it directly affects other people. No matter how much you eat, I’ll never get fat from it; I do have to breathe your smoke if you get too close though. Addictive substances also deserve at least some serious restrictions simply because they subvert choice.

Strassia and Der Trihs … right on!

I completely agree with this. Smoking should be banned in public place. But public places do not include restaurants that are privately owned; any private establishment should be able to include smoking if the owner so chooses.

I admire the sentiment in this idea, but I am afraid the process would be hopelessly politicized. Who decides what is healthy and unhealthy, what gets taxed at what rates and who gets what kind of subsidies? It would all come down to political connections - business would proceed as usual and those with strong connections in Washington would pummel those without.

I wouldn’t ban fast food or soda, but I think that if society is going to cover everyone’s health costs, the tax on unhealthy things should be enough to offset whatever they cost in medical treatment long term.

  1. Yes, you’re already required to drive the speed limit. Its more than one law working against the speeders in this case, and I have no problems if people violating it are punished accordingly
  2. I think you pay for your own baby. It kind of falls under general use of health care.
  3. We already curtail certain kinds of sex (prostitution, incest, beastiality, etc.) because they are distasteful or for other reasons. A health focus isnt much different. I wouldnt support that, but it seriously is not any different from saying two consenting adults related to each other cannot have sex.
  4. I dont really see that as enforceable or knowable, so you’d be able to get away with it.
  5. Those hobbies make you healthier. Injury is lessened when doing it right. Theres no comparison

It will end when people have decided that the right balance between their money and their rights is reached. This isn’t an all-or-nothing deal. Banning trans fat doesnt have to lead to banning anything else, evidenced by the fact that there are plenty of bad things that remain unbanned. If you’re postulating that in 50 years, everything except celery and water will be banned, then that’s silly. I do not think there’s any connection between the health craze we are in now and loss of the amount of freedom you predict. Thus, I am perfectly happy and comfortable with banning things up to a certain point.

I would imagine that rampant and unchecked procreation is more of a net benefit to this country than the possibility of contracting disease. Thus I wouldnt ban that.

Money may not be a moral imperative, but it does factor into how invested I am on a subject

Other people’s health care affects me, thus I would vote to make them healthier by banning things that cause that problem.

Thanks Der - I find this idea very illuminating. Because of their influence, additive substances actually subvert choice. Just your from the hip thoughts - what kinds of substances would you include? Caffeine? Sugar? What kind of restrictions would you put in place?

Let increased taxes on junk food, tobacco, and alcohol pay for UHC. Problem solved.

The federal government subsidizes the hell out of cheap calories: corn for high fructose corn syrup and cattle feed. Maybe we should think about taxing low nutrition, high calorie foods. The government taketh away, from what the government giveth.

Government banning or taxing politically incorrect food is nothing new, several state governments banned or taxed types of oleomargarine within my lifetime.

I am not Der Trihs, but there is a big difference between habit forming and addictive. Anything can be habit forming, only certain chemicals create a physical addiction. That said, for years I have thought that recreational substances should be rated in a way similar to the way hazardous chemicals are now. A four axis scale that has addictiveness, intoxification, short term toxicity, and long term health risks. For example, on my scale, a caffeine filled energy drink would rate some thing like 3/1/1/1 since it is fairly addictive, causes only mild euphoria, is only toxic in massive, ridiculous doses, and with normal usage would not be much of a long term health risk. Cigarettes would be 3/0/1/3, alcohol would be 2/3/3/3 and so on. If the levels could be set objectively, you could pass rationale regulations on substances. You could ban anything with a rating of 5, which in my scale would be instantly, permanently addictive/completely incapacitating at any dose/instantly fatal/guaranteed serious long term effects at any usage. Put a surcharge on anything with a addictiveness of 3 or more to go towards addiction treatment programs. Put activity restrictions in place for any substance with intoxification levels of 2 or more. Put a graduated health care surcharge on things that do long term damage, say 1% for level 2s up to 10% for level 4s.


I was just having a discussion about this yesterday…specifically about smoking bans. This board seems to be pretty liberal, so I would imagine that most posters will agree that poor minorities are not well represented in government. Politicians want money. Most money comes from rich white folks. So, rich white folks have a distorted influence over policy. Poor minorities tend to smoke more, and are less likely to quit smoking.

I can’t help but think that a lot of these smoking bans were passed without getting much, if any input, from the people who would most likely be against them.

And now the same sort of thing is occurring with trans fats, etc.

Since changing the way the government works, and getting equal representation for all people, is not likely to happen anytime soon, I think the best way to ensure that people get to make their own decisions is to leave the government out of it. At least do not create any new laws.

According to this site, only 20% of the population smokes:

If that is true, then it should have been easy to establish boycotts to influence business owners to go non-smoking without expanding the size and scope of the government. Change should occur from the people and by the people. If a majority of people want something, they should be able to get it without resorting to the government creating some new law.


Seriously, the huge amount of freedom haters on this board is really getting me down lately. :frowning:

I think it comes down to cost, effectiveness, loss of function, and enforceability. Take seat belt requirements as an example. They’re relative cheap, effective, don’t impair passengers significantly, and enforcement is reasonably straight forward. Compare them to volume control on an MP3 player. There are two paths: require manufactures to limit output volume or punish people listening to music that’s too loud. Path one is reasonably cheap, effective and enforceable, but the device becomes completely useless in loud surroundings. Path two is cheap (maybe even a revenue source in the same way traffic fines are) and can be done in ways that don’t impair the device’s function, but there’s no way it can be effectively enforced.

I think the trans-fat ban and attacks on sugary drinks aren’t very good solutions. Their effectiveness (measured as increased average health of the population regulated) will be virtually nothing. The links between the availability of these chemicals is moderate to low compared to substances we allow but offer no redeeming qualities (tobacco, alcohol).

I agree that many smoking bans have gone to far. But the fact is that there are some places, like courthouses, that you cannot boycott and some places, like where you work, that are difficult to boycott. I disagree with the ordinance in Belmont, CA that banned smoking in your own apartment of townhouse, but I don’t mind banning smoking in anyplace I have little choice about going to.

I also support laws requiring food makers and restaurants to disclose food contents (trans-fat, calories, or almost anything else). And as I said before, I would be more supportive taxes and subsidies that put healthy food on a more even footing with unhealthy food. I think these types of measures increase consumer choice rather than limiting it.

ETA: I having never been a smoker, but I do eat unhealthy food on occasion.