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Tom Purcell: Reverse psychology vs. the Nanny State

Posted: May 3, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 3, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

Get this: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban the sale of cigarettes — now legal to people at age 18 — to people younger than 21.

Yeah, that ought to work!

Bloomberg, as you may know, has become the nation’s poster child for nanny-state policies. He wants to ban the sale of sugary drinks over 16 ounces — but a judge overturned the proposal. The city is appealing.

He has already banned, or tried to ban, trans fats, smoking in public places and salty foods. And now he wants to prevent anyone under 21 from legally buying cigarettes within New York City.

I know the mayor has good intentions. Our modern food supply, much of it processed to taste good, is filled with unhealthful things. There is a reason obesity is at epidemic levels in America.

But the mayor’s attempts at outright bans will not resolve the problem. He is going about it all wrong.

Look, government has never done well in the banning business. Remember when it tried to ban alcohol?

That effort turned millions of ordinary citizens, including my Irish ancestors, into lawbreakers. They had to make their own hooch in homemade stills.

Prohibition also resulted in the growth of massive organized-crime syndicates. Not-so-nice fellows, such as Al Capone, became bloody rich selling illegal booze to thirsty customers.

Cigarettes offer another example. Every time a government body increases tax rates on smokes — Bloomberg is trying to increase the cost of a pack to nearly $11 in New York City — all it does is grow the black market for tax-free cigarettes.

So I have a proposal for Mayor Bloomberg — a reverse-psychology proposal. Rather than ban the behaviors he wants to stop, government should promote them.

Bloomberg should establish programs and committees tasked with encouraging 18-year-olds to smoke if they haven’t yet started. The city could conduct seminars on the benefits of a good puff and explain how cigarette purchases generate tax revenue that supports many wonderful government causes.

He should reintroduce smoking in public places, including restaurants and pubs. Heck, why not make smoking mandatory in these places and establish an undercover police force to fine those who fail to light up?

Once he has that smoking initiative under way, he can begin to encourage use of salt and trans fats in city restaurants. Better yet, he can require that high levels of each be used in every dish.

And rather than ban large sugary drinks, he ought to go the other way: Ban the small ones, require food providers to sell drinks by the bucket, and fine those unable to drink it all.

It wouldn’t be long before the public would be going out of its way to break every rule — by not smoking, by eating low-fat, low-salt foods and by eschewing sugary drinks of every kind.

Of course, such an approach would never happen. That is because most of the nanny programs coming out of our cities, states and now, the federal government, often have little to do with getting actual results.

What they are mostly about is busybodies’ need to make the rest of us bend to their will under the might of government power — as is the case with so many government programs that produce unintended consequences.

There is widespread agreement that the American food supply and American vices are causing a world of woe, and we need to debate ways to resolve it.

One thing is for certain: Nanny-state government policies will never work.

I’d suggest we ban them, but that would only get us more of them.

©2013 Tom Purcell. Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc.

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