Pushing too hard on health campaign

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent campaign against sugary drinks has produced a considerable outcry in opposition.

Certainly Bloomberg’s concern about sugar is backed up by the facts. Diabetes, obesity, kidney disease and a host of other maladies can be linked to sugar. It is in many prospects toxic when taken in consistent amounts. That the mayor is right is not in dispute, but his methods and approach can be questioned.

In a period when everything from cigarettes to soda are regulated, it gives the anti-regulatory, anti-government right a platform to decry the loss of liberties where a debate on gun control is taking place. Bloomberg’s proposals only reinforce the slippery slope arguments.

It also allows grandstanders such as former Alaska governor Sarah Palin to use a “big gulp” as a prop at a conservative conference to the delight of the audience.

Bloomberg’s approach also seems aimed at those whose occasional yearnings for pop or a sugary snack represent a rare pleasure.

Years ago during a cultural event, Bloomberg decreed that wine with your picnic was good, but beer was not. This seemed aimed at certain groups not considered sufficiently sophisticated.

This and other actions only alienate working-class voters without sufficiently curing the problem. Indeed it appears snobbish and counter-productive.

But no doubt Bloomberg’s larger points are valid. In an age when medical costs soar, to prevent actions which aid illness either by education or the law is understandable. Many conservatives who decry “Obamacare,” while denouncing Bloomberg’s initiatives, are somewhat inconsistent. Local hospitals are burdened by payments caused by people whose health may have been improved by better habits. But to appear nanny-like helps to undermine support and invigorate opponents.

However, the Palin approach is irresponsible to the extreme. It is one thing to oppose government action, but to encourage bad practices is wrong. Jesse Helms, during an interview in the 1980s, eager to defend North Carolina’s tobacco interest, smoked. Now no one thought tobacco was healthy for the individual, but secondary smoke proved extremely harmful to those within range. In those days much of what anti-smoking groups presented was denounced as “junk-science” by the smoking lobby. No one would be foolish to argue this point now. Certainly irresponsible sugar consumption affects others with health costs every bit as much as secondary smoke. Hence, it is simply not a case of individual liberty.

But in this period of suspicion of “big government” Bloomberg’s forthright legislative approach stiffens resistance. Besides, endurance rarely sways the groups most virulent against government actions. I am not surprised the Right has not advocated the return of Laudanum or Dudley LeBlanc’s gift to the world, Hadacol. These were once legal and had to be curbed because of their heavy narcotic content. But the Libertarian approach is to embrace the autonomy of the individual – regardless of the consequences.

Both groups could be more consistent. To hail marijuana use is certainly inconsistent with other regulation as the continued rising rate of prosecutions are also questionable. Society simply can make sound decisions based on events and evaluations of their impact. But acting too fast, as Bloomberg did, does little to build larger support.