Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The War on Big Soda

"Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that drinking soda can be hazardous to your health."

Look for that warning label on bottles and cans of Coke, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper and even Hawaiian Punch in stores near you in the not too distant future ... that is, if the Health Nannies and the Trial Lawyers get their way. An Associated Press story this week reports that nutrition "experts" are "escalating the fight" against obesity, and they appear to be changing their focus from fast-food to soft drinks. "In reports to be published in science journals this week, two groups of researchers hope to add evidence to the theory that soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks don't just go hand-in-hand with obesity, but actually cause it," the AP reports. "Not that these drinks are the only cause, but that they are one cause, perhaps the leading cause."

And once "science" takes that leap, the AP predicts the results could be "higher taxes on soda, restrictions on how and where it is sold -- maybe even a surgeon general's warning on labels." As Barry Popkin, a "scientist" at the University of North Carolina boasted, "We've done it with cigarettes."

Yes, they did. And many of us fought the three-headed hydra of government bureaucrats, trial lawyers and junk scientists in their war against Big Tobacco. The bottom line for our side was simply that no one was pointing a gun at anyone's head and MAKING them smoke cigarettes -- just as no one is MAKING anyone drink sodas today. But that didn't matter to a lot of fair-weathered conservatives who willingly joined the War on Tobacco simply because they didn't like cigarettes. Freedom and responsibility? Fuggetaboutit. Let's just get rid of Joe Camel, right?

Well, we tried to warn you people. And I'm not hesitant in the least to say, "I told you so." You allowed the hydra to get its nose under the tent. And now, flush with cash and success in "getting" Big Tobacco, they're coming for your Yoo-Hoo and your Pepsi. Serves you right. Of course, some of you will STILL blow off this encroachment on freedom as nonsense. The government would never crack down on Gatorade the way it did Marlboros, right?

Wrong. They're already doing it. In legislatures and local governments across the country, a quiet but growing movement is already well underway to ban soda machines in schools. After all, what self-respecting social engineering project would dare move forward without a "for the kids" component, right? In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- who should know better -- signed two bills last fall banning vending machine sales of sodas, chocolate bars, crackers, chips, candy and other "junk" foods. The bills' sponsor, Democrat/Socialist state Sen. Martha Escutia, justifies her Big Brother bill thusly: "The benefits of having kids in class who are not on a sugar high, who are going to be able to concentrate and learn better - that's just as important as the obesity aspect."

Yes, dear reader, you read that right. The War on Soda is actually an effort to help kids learn better! Forget about hiring competent teachers, paying them more, raising standards, dumping No Child Left Behind, getting back to basics, breaking up the government monopoly on education, providing school choice and kicking the teachers union out of the classroom. No, all we really need to do to raise student performance is kick the Coke machine out of the school cafeteria. Good grief.

The California bans take effect in July 2007, and let me tell what's going to happen. Kids will continue to drink their favorite beverages. They'll continue to eat Snickers and Ding-Dongs. And if they can't purchase them on campus, they'll purchase them off campus. In addition, a black market in Fritos and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups will pop up under the gymnasium stands, as young entrepreneurs recognize the new demand and fill it from their back-packs. Psssst. Wanna buy a Twix?

Eventually, the Dudley Do-Gooders such as Sen. Escutia and Gov. Schwarzenegger are going to pursue legislation to crack down on the Twinkie black market, banning not just the vending machines on campus, but penalizing mere possession, thus equating snacks with the likes of marijuana, which is already sold on campuses and the use of which only fuels an even greater demand for potato chips and donuts. Hmm. I guess marijuana IS a gateway drug after all.

Eventually, our kids are going to be sent to the principal's office or suspended for getting caught sneaking a Hershey's bar between classes. Somehow I don't think this is what the Founders had in mind when they promoted the need for an educated populace in order to maintain our liberty. But does anyone care any longer?


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