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Protecting us from ourselves

Columbia, Missouri now sees the fallout from its misguided effort to protect its bar and restaurant patrons and employees from the evils of tobacco: A new report by the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis blames a 5% decrease in Columbia’s dining tax revenue squarely on the city’s 11-month-old smoking ban.

The net effect of the smoking ban has been a loss of about $60,000 to the city, the shuttering of five bars and restaurants — most recently, the popular Colosseum Bistro downtown — and a strong incentive for bar owners to build patios, the only legal place to light up in a Columbia bar these days.

But, as I predicted during our on-air debates over the issue, nanny state crusaders won’t stop with smoking.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is proposing a tax on beverages high in fructose corn syrup.

Newsom says obesity accounts for tens of millions of dollars in city health care costs. He cites a recent San Francisco Health Department survey that found nearly a quarter of the city’s 5th, 7th and 9th graders were overweight and that high sugar drinks make up a tenth of a kid’s daily calorie count.

While I agree that high sugar, high caffeine “energy drinks” can’t possibly be good for you, the answer isn’t legislation, it’s parents. It’s not the government’s responsibility to dictate my family’s menu.

The bigger question is where it stops. A ban on butter? A chocolate tax? Arrests for possession of trans fat?

Have you noticed these do-gooders always seem to target the vices of others? In Columbia, for example, smoking a cigarette in the wrong place now carries a bigger fine than smoking marijuana out in the street.

The hypocrisy is typical. If public health were truly the motive for such government intervention, we’d see restrictions and taxes on, say, extramarital sex, given that STDs pose a more immediate and measurable danger to public health than second-hand smoke.

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