Land of the “pretty free”

A few weeks ago, New York City banned sales of soda in containers larger than 16 ounces in an attempt to curb the city’s obesity problem. The law was passed by the city’s Board of Health, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg widely praised the move. Most bottled sodas come in containers 18 ounces or larger.

In August, Australia passed a measure which relegates cigarette packaging to generic, olive green boxes featuring pictures of rotting teeth, heart surgery, and other graphic images. The cigarette brand name will be printed below the images in a generic font. Cigarette companies fear the move will encourage similar laws around the globe.

Last year, the city of San Francisco voted to ban McDonalds Happy Meal Toys from being sold with Happy Meals, hoping to discourage children from eating the unhealthy food. Mayor Gavin Newsom vetoed the ban. The bill passed with such a strong majority that Newsom’s veto had no effect on the measure.

It is wonderful that governments around the world are finally taking a stance to promote a healthy lifestyle. If people cannot drink as much soda, which contains considerable amounts of sugar or sugar substitutes, it seems likely that obesity, which has so plagued the United States in recent years, will not have such an easy inlet into our lives.

It is wonderful that cigarettes, which cause so many health problems in the later stages of life, will soon be unable to advertise themselves as anything other than cancer-causing agents.

It is wonderful that children will no longer be lured into eating unhealthy hamburgers, french fries, or other Happy Meal staples with the promise of toys.

With all of these wonderful bills passing, why am I so troubled by all of this?

For one thing, these seem like a pretty direct attack on personal liberties. Though the bills have yet to become widespread, they have the potential to do so, and it seems shocking that the bills have not faced more criticism.

The law regarding cigarette packaging is particularly worrisome. It is no secret that smoking is unhealthy. It is also true that the highest percentage of smokers come from the working class, and that the number of middle and upper class smokers has diminished significantly since the 1950s.

Knowing this, many people, especially those with low incomes, still choose to smoke for one reason or another. With social mobility down, it’s not hard to imagine one of the few things a person might have to look forward to after a long day working a crappy job is a cigarette or two.

If smoking is legal, let it be legal. I don’t see the rationale in subjecting an individual to disgusting images, and doing so seems like a stab at a person’s intelligence and freedom to make personal decisions.

Our generation in particular seems to embrace bills like these, and after talking to several of my peers I could not find anyone who seemed concerned. I am especially confounded by this because our generation is the one advocating gay marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana. If we want the government to be hands-off on our recreational drug habits and hands-off in our sexual relations, what about government intervention in what and how much we can eat sounds appealing?

The bills are well-intentioned. I don’t mean to imply that they are not. But at the end of the day, if I feel I can reasonably regulate my soda intake, my smoking habit, my child’s diet, how can it be justified that in an almost entirely free country, I am unable to?

I’m all for healthy lifestyles, but I will stand up for personal freedoms over just about anything. The United States should too.