Agencies strip away our choices

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:16 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

From the multitudinous government bureaucracies to the minions of private (nonprofit?) agencies to the likes of talk show host Bill “I am looking out for you” O’Reilly, we are privileged to enjoy a freedom from any responsibility of making our own decisions and provided an escape clause from the consequences of our actions.

Is it not the fault of Big Tobacco that we are hooked on coffin nails and cancer sticks — a demon addiction from which human willpower is ill equipped to deliver us? And is it not the fast food industry that is to blame in our unchecked race to obesity?

After all, how could one expect mere mortals to resist the Monster Burger or Big Mac, let alone assume responsibility for a healthful diet for their offspring? Additionally, have not the evil profiteers of Big Oil and the auto industry not collaborated in forever addicting us to gas-guzzling behemoths that contribute only to global warming and our long romance with the automobile?

We should have been suspicious of the growing “Nanny State” when our ubiquitous food police decided that theater popcorn, prepared in coconut oil, was a death-dealing artery clogger. This resulted in coercing the theater industry into using a different and less tasty oil in its popping — a logic defying overreaction. In the first place, individuals for the most part do not attend movies often enough for this to be a problem, while any regular moviegoer knows that, at the current price of movie popcorn, only the richest among us can afford that fatal dosage.

The food cops at the Center for Science in the Public Interest have all but decided that people are incapable of personal responsibility in the area of sensible diet and have proposed a litany of inane proposals to tax, litigate and legislate away our choices in food and drink. These include a “sin tax” against fast food operatives, placing candy under the counters a la Penthouse and Playboy and my personal favorite: forcing restaurants to serve smaller portions.

Food is not the only issue in relieving us of any obligation for self control. Even our fair city has joined the parade of eschewing personal responsibility in our choice of eating, drinking and recreational habits. The City Council decided several months ago that its citizens were either incapable or so lacking in common sense to make a choice of which establishments to frequent or where to be employed that it had to relieve us of personal responsibility by banning smoking in all public environs.

However, the absolute silliest example of the “we know what is best” formula in absolving us from having to make decisions on our own is found in the fairly recent finding by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that smoking by movie actors and actresses is a major factor in encouraging teen smoking. This has resulted in a movement to add yet another warning to the violence, sex and language caveats in existence.

Let’s get serious. The last time I looked, people in all walks of life smoke and will continue to do so as long as it is legal. That any rational organization could even consider cautioning the public that Humphrey Bogart or John Wayne smoking in a movie might constitute a danger to today’s youth when promiscuous sex, bloody violence and uncommon vulgarity are the standard on today’s screens is more than ridiculous.

Who decided that we are no longer capable of responsibility for our own individual destiny? And when did we surrender the freedom to decide what is right or wrong?

J. Karl Miller retired as colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Jonathan Polansky August 15, 2007 | 2:09 p.m.

It's not Big Tobacco's fault that people are addicted to nicotine and tobacco is America's #1 killer? This will be news to Philip Morris' marketing department and to Altria shareholders footing the bills. Tobacco industry documents describe, in amazing detail, the deliberation and money invested in getting young people to try smoking, in the manipulation of nicotine levels to keep people hooked, and in systematic disinformation campaigns designed to confuse the public about the health effects of smoking and secondhand smoke. That's why Philip Morris and other companies just got slammed with a civil racketeering conviction in federal court. The history of tobacco product placement in kid-rated movies is also fully documented. Despite a blizzard of Hollywood press releases on the topic, most kid-rated movie still promote smoking, with no warning to parents. Sure, almost all adults know better than to start smoking — 90% of smokers begin as adolescents. Isn't it our adult responsibility, acting as a community, to safeguard our kids from the tobacco industry's chemical assault? Yes, if duty still has any meaning.

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